Large health inequalities across England revealed

Cancer Research UK

There are stark differences in how long people in different parts of England can expect to live a healthy life, according to a new report.

The report from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) shows that people in areas with the highest healthy life expectancy will live longer without health problems than people in areas with the lowest expectancy.

“More needs to be done to help close the gap between the areas with the highest healthy life expectancies and those with the lowest."Clare Hyde, Cancer Research UK

Clare Hyde, Cancer Research UK’s health information officer, said the report gives valuable insight into the health inequalities that exist across England.

“More needs to be done to help close the gap between the areas with the highest healthy life expectancies and those with the lowest. This is why Cancer Research UK is pushing the government to help make healthy choices easier.” said Hyde.

Life expectancy in England has been increasing consistently since 1951, but varies by location. Men living in the least deprived areas live on average 9.2 years longer than men living in the most deprived areas. For women this gap is 7.1 years. 

There is an even greater difference in the quality of those years lived.

Healthy life expectancy (HLE), or the number of years one could expect to live in good health, in England is 64.1 years for women and 63.4 for men.

Men living in the most deprived areas of England can expect to lead a healthy life for nearly 19 years less than men living in the least deprived.  The difference for women is 19.6 years.

Heath inequalities between the north and south of England were also highlighted, as 6 of the top 7 areas with the highest healthy life expectancy were in the south, and all of the top 6 areas with the lowest expectancy were in the north.

The report looked at information on health-related lifestyle factors such as smoking, obesity, physical activity and diet.

It found that people living in areas with the lowest healthy life expectancy were 1.7 times more likely to smoke than those living in areas with the highest expectancy.

The number of smokers in a community also depended on location. In Wokingham, one of the highest HLE areas, around 10 in 100 residents smoked, whereas in Kingston-Upon-Hull, one of the lowest HLE health areas, the number of smokers was almost 3 times higher.

Tobacco is the single biggest cause of cancer and costs society £12.9 billion every year in England.

Hyde called for the government to publish its tobacco control plan for England “without further delay, with targeted action to support smokers in the most deprived areas to stop.”

The report also found that adults who lived in areas with a lower healthy life expectancy were more likely to be obese.

Around 34 in 100 adults were classified as obese in Barnsley, compared to less than 14 in 100 in Kensington and Chelsea. Men living in the wealthy London borough were expected to live in good health 12.7 years longer compared to men in Barnsley.

Childhood obesity rates were also higher in areas with the lowest healthy life expectancy.

More than 12 in every 100 children in areas with the lowest healthy life expectancy are obese, compared to 10 in 100 children in areas with the highest healthy life expectancy.

Obesity is the second biggest preventable cause of cancer, after smoking. Hyde stressed the need to tackle childhood obesity especially.

“We need fewer junk food adverts on shows children watch the most, and to make sure the food industry delivers on targets to reduce sugar in foods they often eat,” she said.

References

The Office of National Statistics (2017) An overview of lifestyles and wider characteristics linked to Healthy Life Expectancy in England: June 2017