Health gap between rich and poor remains

Published: 15 September 2015 at 16:00

Prof Rupert Bourne

Men in affluent areas live eight years longer than those in most deprived parts of England

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Men in affluent areas of the East of England can expect to live more than eight years longer than those living in the most deprived parts of the North West, according to a comprehensive new study published today in The Lancet.

The difference in life expectancy for women between the most and least deprived areas is 6.9 years. However, when compared to other parts of the UK and across the EU, England had better than average health outcomes.

People are expected to live to an average of 81 in England overall compared to 75 in 1990, according to the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013.

The study looks at data between 1990 and 2013 by mapping changes in health in England, with analysis by English regions and areas of deprivation. Comparisons are made with other EU countries and the rest of the UK, and the findings are expected to influence government health policy.

Each region of the country is split into five deprivation quintiles, and incidence of diseases and health problems from heart disease, lung cancer, and Alzheimer's disease to road injuries and drug use disorders are recorded.

The report finds large health inequalities still remain. In the most deprived quartile of the North West, life expectancy for men is just under 75 years, whereas in the most affluent areas of the East of England, men live to an average of just over 83. Women in the least deprived areas live to an average of 85 compared to 79 in the most deprived areas.

However since 1990, England has overtaken countries such as Norway, Canada, France, the Netherlands and Spain for average life expectancy of men. Each region has experienced a rise of at least six years in life expectancy, largely thanks to declines in cardiovascular disease and a reduction in cancer deaths.

Increased mortality from cirrhosis of the liver and from mental and substance use disorders, mainly attributed to alcohol use, made negative contributions to life expectancy across England except in Greater London and the South East.

Co-author Professor Rupert Bourne, of Anglia Ruskin University, said: "It is clear from this research that great strides have been made over the past 25 years in healthcare and this is having an impact on life expectancy all over the country.

"We're now seeing fewer people dying from cancer and heart disease, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – the four biggest causes of death. Even safer roads have had a significant impact – road accidents were the 14th biggest cause of death in 1990 but 29th in 2013.

"The gap between rich and poor still remains and is a concern that needs to be addressed by government. In poorer areas there are higher instances of death from mental and substance use disorders which can also be linked to social factors."

The research was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Public Health England.

The full study can be read at http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(15)00195-6/abstract