News story

Global health study shows mixed picture for UK health over last 20 years

Analysis published in the Lancet shows life expectancy in the UK has improved over the last 20 years, but levels of ill health have not.

Older couple

The UK is now below average compared with 18 other countries.

The analysis of the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010 was co-authored by Professor Kevin Fenton, Director of Health and Wellbeing of Public Health England (PHE) and Professor John Newton, Chief Knowledge Officer of PHE, among others.

The report looked at how the health of the UK compares with 14 other EU countries, Australia, Canada, Norway and the United States.

In the 20 years from 1990 to 2010, life expectancy overall increased by 4.2 years in the UK to 79.9 years. However, improvements have been very small for some age groups and the UK has performed poorly compared with other countries.

The top 8 diseases causing the most years of life lost in the UK are largely the same as those reported in 1990. These are heart disease, lung cancer, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lower respiratory infections, colorectal cancer, breast cancer and self-harm.

Compared with the other 18 countries, the UK does worse for premature mortality (years of life lost) for most conditions and its relative position has worsened since 1990. But the UK’s years of life lost rate is significantly better when compared to the average of all the other countries assessed for road injury, diabetes, liver cancer and chronic kidney disease.

Professor Kevin Fenton, Director of Health and Wellbeing at PHE, said: “This report is both a wake-up call and an opportunity for the UK. While it’s encouraging that overall the health of the UK has improved substantially since the last report the pace of improvement is not enough.

“The creation of PHE and the movement of public health into local authorities are huge transformational opportunities for improving the public’s health, and there could be no better time to do things differently. The results from the study identify where we need to improve and where existing and future resources will need to be realigned to meet the needs of our demographically changing population. To improve public health we need to redress a historic imbalance by focusing more on primary prevention and the promotion of wellbeing in addition to ensuring effective, high quality, and accountable clinical care and rehabilitation services.”

Professor John Newton, Chief Knowledge Officer at Public Health England, said: “We should be proud that life expectancy in the UK has increased as much as it has since 1990, but we need to make sure that these extra years are healthy ones. As a society, we must look after our vulnerable people better. Poor mental health causes an enormous and increasing burden of disability as does the pain and disability of arthritis, and loss of independence due to poor sight, hearing and incontinence.”

Photo above by francisco_osorio on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

Published 26 March 2013