Quite a few people have linked to this story from the New York Times in which it’s reported that elderly Brits are healthier than elderly Americans. There have been a wide variety of interesting takes on the story. For example, Arnold Kling wonders how they controlled for reverse causation i.e. it’s possible that more sickness is being identified here. Some have suggested that universal health care in the form of the British National Health Service is responsible.

Some have suggested diet, exercise, tea, or other causes. No one has suggested the obvious: our population is so much more diverse than Britain’s that comparisons are not very meaningful.

I suspect that iatrogenic morbidity and mortality is responsible for at least a fraction of the difference: there are higher incentives here both to overtreat and to undertreat.

But by far the best suggestion I’ve read is in this comment at The Moderate Voice:

Maybe it has something to do with England having only 4 TV channels and they’re all BBC networks. I have trouble finding something good to watch and I have 100+ channels on basic cable. And if I don’t have anything to watch, I do something else. I would guess that the English spend a great deal more time away from the TV than Americans do.

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  • I read somewhere a few years ago that in Britain good health into old age was a function of class. Wish I could find the citation. Even allowing for education, job, etc., in the end class trumped them all.

    So that’s one we can’t factor in. Yeah, we have some class distinctions, but they’re fluid and people move up and down….IMHO, George Bush moved out of his class deliberately. Don’t know what family dynamic went into that decision, but it’s obvious when you look at it. His daddy was much more his father’s son than GW is. The latter married middle class, left his Episcopalian background and became much more Middle American than other members of his family. An interesting odyssey.

    In our family, the same is true. A variety of moves.

    Did you ever read Paul Fussell’s book on class in America?

    (BTW, maybe gardening is what keeps those Brits healthy?? They are gardening nuts)

  • oh, yes, one other thing about class and health (mental and physical): when my relatives arrived here from the old country, all of them remarked that coming to America was like dropping a weight from their shoulders and that they felt a sense that one could be anything, do anything.

    I wonder, if buried under all that Mexican media-generated resentment, there is not the same beating hope?

  • That’s a lovely thought, Dymphna.

    One of these days I’m going to have to write a post on the subject of class in America. We do have social classes but they aren’t actually very important in the total scheme of things. Most people conflate wealth and class and they’re not completely the same thing here.

    Bill Gates, for example, is the richest man in the world but he’s pretty definitely middle class. George Bush is definitely upper class.

    Due to pecularities of my own circumstances although my family is pretty resolutely middle class, I spent my early years among quite a few lower class people and my late childhood-teenage years surrounded by our sparse aristocracy.

  • Perhaps “Moderate Voice” should visit the UK and discover that there are in fact more than four channels (and not all are BBC either, even on the broadcast front).

    Blogs ability to promote trite ill informed whanking is just amazing.

  • I thought it was amusing in a silly sort of way.

    I like the television programming in the UK. But I’ve heard my Brit friends complain often enough that there’s nothing on that, as I say, I found it amusing.

  • As a general matter, I find UK TV programing better than US – for all the hundreds of channels in the US of A, there seems precious little originality.

  • I think the reason for the lack of originality in U. S. TV programming has to do with the very small circle with similar life experiences and interests from which the producers and writers tend to be drawn. That and that they’re a lot better at merchandising and promoting than they are at storytelling.

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