Walkable Communities, Healthier Food…Europeans Healthier than Americans?

  • Published on May 11th, 2009

A study* in the American Journal of Public Health looked at health differences between Europeans, English and Americans across age and income levels and concluded “American adults are less healthy than Europeans at all wealth levels.  The poorest Americans experience the greatest disadvantage relative to Europeans.”

The U.S. spends 2-3 times more than European countries per capita on health care, but several recent studies showed that the health of Americans was worse than that of the English. This study was one of the first to examine the difference between EU countries and the U.S. in terms of diabetes or high blood sugar, stroke, heart disease, hypertension, cancer (excluding skin cancer), and lung disease.  The fact that poor Europeans have equal access to primary and preventive care and education would logically lead to a health gap between poor Europeans and poor Americans.  However, the study finds that rich Americans are less healthy than rich Europeans as well.

The study discusses some possible reasons why Americans are less healthy than Europeans:

Several factors may explain why Americans have worse health than Europeans.  Although major risk factors such as smoking are similarly prevalent, the obesity epidemic is more advanced in the US than in Europe.  In addition, Europe’s social and healthcare policies are more comprehensive and contrast with a marked focus on specialist care in the US.

In addition, one has to wonder about walkable cities, less time spent in traffic, stricter environmental regulations, better protection from toxic chemicals, the banning of Genetically Modified Foods, and a diet that is not centered on a food pyramid that was heavily influenced by agribusiness interests.

Scott Cooney is the author of Build a Green Small Business:  Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill).

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*Am J Public Health.  2009;99:540-548.  Health Disadvantage in US Adults aged 50 to 74 years:  A Comparison of the Health of Rich and Poor Americans With That of Europeans.  Avendano, Mauricio, PhD., M. Maria Glymour, ScD., James Banks, PhD., and Johan P. Mackenbach, PhD.

About the Author

Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai'i, green business startup coach, author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and developer of the sustainability board game GBO Hawai'i. Scott has started, grown and sold two mission-driven businesses, failed miserably at a third, and is currently in his fourth. Scott's current company has three divisions: a sustainability blog network that includes the world's biggest clean energy website and reached over 5 million readers in December 2013 alone; Pono Home, a turnkey and franchiseable green home consulting service that won entrance into the clean tech incubator known as Energy Excelerator; and Cost of Solar, a solar lead generation service to connect interested homeowners and solar contractors. In his spare time, Scott surfs, plays ultimate frisbee and enjoys a good, long bike ride. Find Scott on