masthead-highres

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Another Bit Of "Unbiased" Reporting On the U.S. Health Care System

Our David Hogberg found the following press release on Yahoo!:
The United States may be the wealthiest country in the world, but we rank only 15th in overall health care for chronic disease sufferers, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). And our health is suffering as a result: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 600,000 people are admitted to U.S. hospitals every year because of diabetes, and almost 300,000 people die from the disease and its complications, many of which could be avoided -- if our health care system were different.
Says David, in response:
Of course, any statistic coming from the WHO has to be taken with a grain of salt the size of Mount McKinley. Remember, this is the same organization that in 2000 released a report that ranked the U.S. health care system 37th in the world, behind the health care powerhouses of Colombia, Morocco, Dominica and Costa Rica.

The WHO defines chronic diseases as cardiovascular diseases, mainly heart disease and stroke; cancer; chronic respiratory diseases; and diabetes (see page 35 of this WHO report). I constructed two tables using data available at this WHO webpage. I compared the twenty most developed nations in the world and created tables based on total deaths from chronic diseases and those from diabetes.

Table 1: Deaths Due to Chronic Diseases
RankCountry Age Standardized
Death Rate Per 100K
1Japan275
2Switzerland343
3France349
4Sweden364
5Canada371
6Iceland374
7Spain379
8Israel380
9Italy387
10Luxembourg396
11Austria398
12Finland411
13Belgium413
14U.K.419
15Germany433
16U.S.442
17Portugal446
18Greece450
19Ireland468
20Denmark484



Table 2: Deaths Due To Diabetes
RankCountry Age Standardized
Death Rate Per 100K
1Greece4
1Japan4
3Finland5
3U.K.5
3Iceland5
6Belgium7
6Luxembourg7
8Austria8
8Ireland8
8Sweden8
9France9
12Switzerland11
12Germany11
12Spain11
15Canada13
16Italy14
17Denmark15
18Portugal17
18U.S.17
20Israel 36


You can see that we are ranked 16th on total deaths (that's pretty close to 15th, so let's assume that the press release got it basically right). We rank just above last on diabetes.

The problem, though, is that the statistic is "age standardized death rate per 100,000." In other words, the death rate is adjusted only for age of the population, not for any other factor. That matters because the U.S. has a much higher population of people of African descent than those other nations, a population that is at much higher risk (see here and here) of diabetes and heart disease than the white population. Were the different racial makeup of these nations accounted for, the numbers would probably look much different.

The WHO number in the press release is not the only one that is misleading. The press release also states that, according to the CDC, 600,000 people are hospitalized each year in the U.S. due to diabetes and "almost 300,000 people die from the disease and its complications." Looking over the CDC's website, I found that 597,000 Americans are hospitalized each year-about 600,000. But the website also shows that 224,092 of those die. Is that really "almost 300,000"? It would seem that the number would have to be closer to 300,000 than 200,000 for the adjective "almost" to apply. It's a bit like saying that when Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs in 2001, he hit "almost 80."

No need to worry, though. Despite the use of questionable statistics, you can be sure that the news program on diabetes that this press release is announcing will be the utmost of fair, objective, balanced journalism. Just look at the very next sentence of the press release: "The sorrowful state of diabetes care in America is examined this week on dLifeTV, the weekly, national show about diabetes, airing this Sunday on CNBC at 7:00 PM ET (6:00PM CT/4:00PM PT)."
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Posted by Amy Ridenour at 1:08 AM

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