UK lags behind other high-income nations in health stakes

In collaboration with the Press Association

Improvements in the UK's health lag behind many other developed nations, a study published in The Lancet has revealed.

Although life expectancy of Britons has increased thanks to six decades of universal healthcare, vastly increased health spending and widespread anti-tobacco initiatives, the UK has failed to keep pace with the 14 other original members of the European Union, Australia, Canada, Norway, and the USA over the past 20 years

While average UK life expectancy has increased by 4.2 years over the last two decades, the nation's premature death rates have dropped at a slower rate than the rest of the other countries.

Using data from the 2010 Global Burden of Disease study, a team of international experts led by Dr Chris Murray, from the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, analysed patterns of ill health and death in the UK. They then ranked them against other high-income countries with similar levels of health expenditure in 1990 and 2010.

Smoking is a large factor in the UK's poor relative performance, alongside alcohol, drug abuse and obesity, with doctors calling for a more joined-up health policy to help educate the public about health lifestyles.

The eight leading causes of death in the UK have remained relatively consistent over the last 20 years, with ischemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), stroke, lung cancer and lower respiratory infections continuing to top the list.

Sarah Woolnough, Cancer Research UK's executive director of policy and information, said the findings underlined the need for action.

"We know that smoking, being overweight or obese, poor diet and alcohol consumption all increase the risk of developing cancer," she said.

"Over 40 per cent of cancers in the UK are preventable; of these, tobacco is the single largest cause of cancer responsible for over 60,000 cases in the UK. It is sadly not surprising that lung cancer remains in the top five causes of death in the UK.

That, said Woolnough, highlighted the need for improved public health and early intervention to tackle premature mortality, and to "achieve mortality rates on a par with the best countries in the world".

"As part of this, we are urging the Government to introduce standardised packaging of tobacco, which would make tobacco less attractive, and help prevent a further generation of young people from starting to smoke," she added.

Dr Edmund Jessop, from the UK Faculty of Public Health, said that despite the overall findings, the UK had done "very well" in some areas over the last two decades, citing reduced mortality rates, improved diet and a drop in disability-adjusted life-years.

This meant that the UK had seen significantly lower premature mortality from diabetes, road injuries, liver cancer and chronic kidney diseases

He also pointed out that the UK has some of the strongest tobacco control policies in Europe.

Copyright Press Association 2013


  • Murray C.J., Richards M.A., Newton J.N., Fenton K.A., Anderson H.R., Atkinson C., Bennett D., BernabĂ© E., Blencowe H. & Bourne R. & (2013). UK health performance: findings of the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010, The Lancet, DOI: