When we talk about the social impact of ageing population, we simply cannot avoid the topic of chronic diseases as these two are closely related. Chronic diseases include cancer, diabetes, heart disease, etc. will cause the older population a great deal of their fortune just for the medical expenses.
A new study, conducted by researchers at Emory University Rollins School of Public Health and published online on October 1, 2007 by Health Affairs, revealed that Americans over the age of 50 are more likely to be diagnosed with chronic illnesses than their European counterparts.
The findings also indicated that patients in the United States are also more likely to get medical treatment for these costly diseases. This would make US health care 100 to 150 billion dollars (70 to 105 billion Euros) more expensive than in Europe annually.
According to the study, Americans are more susceptible to chronic diseases because of two reasons:
Obese Americans are nearly two times more than obese Europeans.
There are more current or former cigarette smokers in the US population than in Europe.
The researchers used the 2004 data on the prevalence and treatment of diseases among adults of age 50 and above and compared those in United States and those in the 10 European countries: Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
There are 33.1 percent of older Americans are obese, compared with 17.1 percent of Europeans. For smoking, there are 53 percent of Americans are former or current smokers, compared with 43 percent of Europeans.
In 2004, US healthcare spending for an individual averaged 6,120 dollars, which was about twice that in the Netherlands, Germany and France. If the US could bring its obesity rates in line with Europe's, it could simply save more than 100 billion dollars a year in health care costs.
However, the researchers were not clear about the reasons for the higher disease prevalence in US. It may be due to the fact that Americans are actually sicker than Europeans, or it is possible that more aggressive diagnosis and pre-treatment of chronic diseases in US raises disease prevalence rates.
On the other hand, the researchers believe that more intensive screening has made the rate of diagnosed cancer to be higher (more than double) in the US than that of Europe.