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Thursday, 25 October 2018

Study shows poorer people dying earlier and getting sicker quicker, says expert

Written by Ella Pickover

Half of premature deaths have been linked to risk factors such as smoking and obesity in a new study.

An unhealthy diet, not exercising enough, alcohol and drug use, high blood pressure and environmental factors such as air pollution were also to blame, researchers said.

While overall rates of premature death have improved since 1990, half of all premature deaths in 2016 were linked to such risk factors, according to the paper.

The study, led by the University of East Anglia, provides data on premature mortality, disability and risk factors from 1990 to 2016 for local authorities across England, as well as Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

The authors said that between 1990 and 2016, life expectancy has improved in all four countries of the UK, but the rate of improvement has slowed since 2010.

The national slow-down in improvements since 2010 was mainly driven by the gradual disappearance of improvements in ischaemic heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, and to a lesser extent bowel cancer, lung cancer, and breast cancer, they added.

"The worsening trend in mortality for some cancers is a concern, especially given evidence that survival from some common cancers in the UK is worse than in other European countries," said Professor Nicholas Steel, lead author, University of East Anglia.

The study, published in The Lancet, also found that rates of premature mortality are two times higher in the most deprived areas of England, compared to the richest.

Researchers have also published a map detailing how many "years of life are lost" due to the nation's 20 leading causes of premature death across each locality.

This means Britons can compare their local area to other regions.

In England, researchers found rates of premature death were highest in Blackpool, where they were two times higher than those observed in Wokingham, Surrey, Windsor and Maidenhead, and West Berkshire.

But some localities performed better than expected, given their levels of deprivation, researchers said.

For example Birmingham and the London boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Hackney performed better than local regions with similar levels of deprivation in Liverpool and Manchester.

Professor John Newton, author and director of health improvement at Public Health England, UK, said: "This comprehensive assessment of health across the country highlights the stark division between rich and poor areas, which sees poorer people dying earlier and getting sicker quicker.

"It also shows the improvements to health that could be achieved by addressing underlying causes, such as poverty, education and other resources needed for good health.

"As we work to develop the NHS long-term plan, actions tackling the social and structural drivers of ill health are needed if we're to improve the stubborn health gap between rich and poor areas of the country."

Meanwhile, the leading causes of disability were found to be low back and neck pain, skin and subcutaneous diseases, migraine, depressive disorders, sense organ disorders and anxiety disorders, researchers said.

"As death rates decrease, people continue to live with long-term, often multiple conditions," Prof Steel said.

"Our findings show a significant shift from mortality to morbidity, yet our health services are still designed to deal with the big killers.

"Today, conditions such as back and neck pain and anxiety and depression are huge causes of disability in the UK."

Commenting on the study, Tim Elwell-Sutton, assistant director of strategic partnerships at the Health Foundation think tank, said: "To ensure that everyone has the best opportunity to live a healthy life, urgent cross-government action is needed along with investment in public services such as housing, education and children's services that impact on people's health.

"More focus is also needed on designing services to care for people with multiple conditions, particularly in areas where deprivation is highest and the need is greatest."

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