Saturday, November 10, 2007

Could Obesity Lead to a Longer Life Expectancy?

Greg Mankiw reproduces a table from the Carpe Diem blog that shows a series called “standardized life expectancy” noting that the U.S. leads in this constructed figure. Greg writes:

I have not studied the details behind the construction of these numbers, but they are asking a sensible question … Given how overweight we Americans are compared with citizens of other countries, it is amazing that we live as long as we do.

Why this might be misleading is explained after the jump.

OK, Greg is likely correct in his assertion that obesity – along with homicide and accidents – tend to lower life expectancy as traditionally measured but notice that his previous post asserted that higher spending should lead to better health outcomes. Let’s turn to Carpe Diem’s source, which was a PowerPoint presentation by Robert Ohsfeldt and John Schneider, which discusses health care reform by starting with a bullet point entitled “Dimensions of underperformance”. The sub-bullets are excessive spending, poor health outcomes, and inadequate access to care. Slide 6 notes that the US spends twice as much per capita as nations such as Canada, France, Germany, and the UK. The authors do, however, note that one would expect at least a little higher spending per capita given the fact that the U.S. has higher income per capita. The authors also provide a lot of evidence on the quality of health care debate as well as how many Americans go uninsured.

The contributions to this debate made by Ohsfeldt and Schneider appear to go well beyond the standardized life expectancy comparison that Mark Perry (Carpe Diem) and Greg have emphasized. I for one would love to study the details of their research more closely. But for now, let me rephrase Greg’s query as follows:

Given our much we Americans spend on health care compared with citizens of other countries, it is amazing that we don’t live longer.

5 comments: said...


Well, when I have brought up this embarrassing fact that the US is about 17th in life expectancy and around 32nd in infant mortality while we spend so much more per person than any other country in the world on health care, on libertarian or conservative lists where they are all bent out against "socialized medicine," one of the few semi-sensible arguments I have seen in reply is precisely this one about our excessive obesity: that this is why we have these lousy stats for all that health care money spent. So, supposely we have the world's best health care. We just ruin things by running to MacDonald's all the time.


ProGrowthLiberal said...

Hey - if I ran to McDonald's everytime I wanted a hamburger, I might get in better shape. Nearest McDonald's is 5 miles away. Round trip 10 mile run = 1000 calories. Doublecheese burget on the dollar menu - not so much.

Martin Langeland said...

Money spent on drug advertising s not spent on health care.
Money spent on administrative costs to determine which insurance company pays (with the preferred result being none) is not spent on health care.
Conventional wisdom based on diet industry profit motives obfuscates health care costs. See
Observer article
on a recent comprehensive study of studies about obesity for a touch of clarity, please.

PGL said...

Martin - too funny. Even funnier - over at Greg Mankiw, he is offering diet advice to his readers. Next thing you know, Jenny Craig will place ads on his blog.

Martin Langeland said...

No doubt Jenny Craig will also start giving financial advice, a field in which she is marginally more competent than keeping weight off.