17 Feb 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 Rank Country Age Standardized
Death Rate Per 100K
1 Japan 275 2 Switzerland 343 3 France 349 4 Sweden 364 5 Canada 371 6 Iceland 374 7 Spain 379 8 Israel 380 9 Italy 387 10 Luxembourg 396 11 Austria 398 12 Finland 411 13 Belgium 413 14 U.K. 419 15 Germany 433 16 U.S. 442 17 Portugal 446 18 Greece 450 19 Ireland 468 20 Denmark 484
Table 2: Deaths Due To Diabetes Rank Country Age Standardized
Death Rate Per 100K
1 Greece 4 1 Japan 4 3 Finland 5 3 U.K. 5 3 Iceland 5 6 Belgium 7 6 Luxembourg 7 8 Austria 8 8 Ireland 8 8 Sweden 8 9 France 9 12 Switzerland 11 12 Germany 11 12 Spain 11 15 Canada 13 16 Italy 14 17 Denmark 15 18 Portugal 17 18 U.S. 17 20 Israel 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 hereand 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).”