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US Has High Rates Of Chronic Diseases Among People 50 And Older

Armen Hareyan's picture

Older U.S. adults are twice as likely as older European adults tohave a number of chronic diseases, many of which are related to obesityand smoking, according to a study published Tuesday on the Web site ofthe journal Health Affairs, the Los Angeles Times reports (Girion, Los Angeles Times, 10/2). For the study, researchers from the Rollins School of Public Healthat Emory University examined information from 2004 on the treatment ofchronic diseases among adults ages 50 and older in the U.S. and 10European nations -- Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy,the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland (Lopes, Washington Times, 10/2). The study found:

  • Older U.S. adults were twice as likely as older European adults to have heart disease;
  • Older U.S. adults were more than twice as likely as older European adults to have arthritis (Los Angeles Times, 10/2);
  • 12.2% of older U.S. adults had cancer, compared with 5.4% of older European adults (Washington Times, 10/2);
  • 16% of older U.S. adults had diabetes, compared with 11% of older European adults;
  • 33.1% of older U.S. adults were classified as obese, compared with 17.1% of older European adults; and
  • 53% of older U.S. adults were active or former smokers, compared with 43% of older European adults.

Accordingto the study, in the event that the rate of 10 chronic diseases amongolder U.S. adults decreased to the rate among older European adults,U.S. health care costs would decrease by $100 billion to $150 billionannually. The study recommended that the U.S. promote healthy diets andother measures to prevent chronic diseases to reduce health care costs (Los Angeles Times, 10/2).

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Lead study author Kenneth Thorpe, chair of the Health Policy and Management Departmentat Emory, said, "We expected to see differences between diseaseprevalence in the United States and Europe, but the extent of thedifferences is surprising," adding, "It is possible that we spend moreon health care because we are, indeed, less healthy" (Washington Times,10/2). In addition, he said, "I think the big difference is thedoubling of obesity rates," adding, "If you look at thedoctor-diagnosed rates of diabetes and other chronic diseases relatedto obesity, it's just startling."

Thorpe also said the U.S.health care system does not promote measures to prevent chronicdiseases or effective disease management programs. He said, "We waitfor people to get sick. They show up. We treat them. And doctors andhospitals get paid. That's not a very good way for managing diseases" (Los Angeles Times, 10/2).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. Youcan view the entire Kaiser DailyHealth Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email deliveryat kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, afree service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.