"I presented this paper in England, and they were all surprised because they are known as the 'sick' European country," she said. "They were saying, 'The U.S. must be doing really bad because they're worse than us, and we're worse than the rest of the European countries.'"
So, how to explain the differences?
There are likely multiple explanations, including obesity, diabetes and higher rates of poverty, Avendano said. The United States actually has lower rates of smoking than England, although that didn't used to be true.
And though lack of access to health care for many Americans certainly isn't good for their health -- England, like other European countries, has universal coverage -- it's not the only explanation for the differences, Avendano said.
Certain aspects of American labor markets and social policy may matter just as much or more. American workers generally have less protection from losing their jobs, and when they do, they get lower unemployment benefits. Americans can expect unemployment benefits to replace 48 percent of lost wages compared to 78 percent in the United Kingdom, 81 percent in Germany and 95 percent in Sweden, according to the editorial.
Women in the United States get no or only limited paid maternity leave, while women in the United Kingdom get more than nine weeks, French women get 47 weeks and Swedish women get 62 weeks, the editorialists noted.
The United States also has higher poverty rates, they added. Among children, for instance, in 2005, 21 percent of children in the United States lived in poverty, compared with 10 percent in the United Kingdom, 4 percent in Sweden and 8 percent in France.
The relative weakness of the U.S. social safety nets may mean less security and more stress, and that can also take a toll on health, Avendano suggested.
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