Patients in the United States are also more likely to get treatment for those costly diseases, making US health care 100 to 150 billion dollars (70 to 105 billion euros) more expensive than in Europe annually, according to the study published online by Health Affairs.
Nearly twice as many Americans are obese as Europeans, and there are more current or former cigarette smokers in the US population than in Europe -- making Americans more susceptible to chronic diseases, according to the study conducted by researchers at Emory University Rollins School of Public Health.
The researchers compared 2004 data on the prevalence and treatment of diseases among adults 50 and older in the United States and 10 European countries: Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
The study found that 33.1 of older Americans are obese compared with 17.1 percent of Europeans. And 53 percent of Americans are former or current smokers, compared with 43 percent of Europeans.
"It is possible that we spend more on health care because we are, indeed, less healthy," said Kenneth Thorpe, chairman of the Rollins School's Health Policy and Management Department.
"If the US could bring its obesity rates more in line with Europe's, it could save 100 billion dollars a year or more in health care costs," he said in a news release.
In 2004, US health care spending for an individual averaged 6,102 dollars, about twice that in the Netherlands, Germany and France, researchers found.
But the scientists said the reason for the higher disease prevalence in the United States was not fully clear.
"While it is possible that Americans are actually sicker than Europeans, it is also possible that more aggressive diagnosis and pretreatment of chronic diseases in this country raises disease prevalence rates," a study summary said.
"The higher rate of diagnosed cancer in the United States -- more than double that of Europe -- appears to be due to more intensive screening here."