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UK women’s health lags behind much of Europe

PHE’s Health Profile For England reveals stubborn health inequalities across the nation

Louise Prime

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Women’s health in the UK is worse than in many other European Union (EU) countries, according to the latest report from Public Health England (PHE), with UK men faring a little better against their EU counterparts. In Health profile for England: 2018, PHE also warned that “stubborn inequalities persist” in life expectancy across England. And it added that the rising death rate for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease might overtake heart disease as the leading cause of male mortality by 2020.

PHE reported that overall, people are living longer – life expectancy in England has reached 79.6 years for men and 83.2 for women – and people in every age group are healthier than ever before. But it noted that, currently, UK women’s health is ranked 18th lowest out of 28 EU member states for premature death; UK men are ranked 10th.

Furthermore, PHE warned that “stubborn inequalities persist – in the richest areas people enjoy 19 more years in good health than those in the poorest areas”. In 2014-16, the level of inequality in life expectancy between the most and least deprived areas of England was 9.3 years for males and 7.3 years for females.

PHE found that the two leading causes of morbidity for men and women are low back and neck pain, and skin disease (dermatitis, acne and psoriasis); hearing and sight loss also rank highly for both sexes. It found that although most causes of morbidity become more prevalent with age, mental health problems and substance use affect younger adults the most, accounting for more than a third of the disease burden in those aged 15 to 29 years.

PHE also reported on predicted future health trends, including:

  • The number of people aged 85 years has more than tripled since the 1970s and will include more than two million people by 2031.
  • The death rate for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease – already the leading cause of death in women – may overtake heart disease in men as early as 2020 and is likely to become the leading cause of death in men too.
  • The number of people with diabetes is expected to increase by a million – from just under four million people in 2017 to almost five million in 2035.
  • In the past seven years, smoking prevalence has dropped by a quarter to 15% and as little as 10% of the population could still be smoking by 2023.
PHE chief executive Duncan Selbie commented this morning: “As we work to develop the NHS long-term plan, we must set the ambition high. If done right, with prevention as its centrepiece, the payoff of a healthier society and more sustainable NHS will be huge.”

Professor John Newton, PHE’s director of health improvement, added: “More of us are living longer with painful or disabling conditions, including musculoskeletal problems, skin conditions and sensory loss. While these illnesses often attract less attention than causes of early death such as heart disease and cancer, they have a profound effect on the day-to-day lives of many people and together they place significant pressure on the NHS.

“The challenge now is for the NHS to respond to this changing landscape and to focus on preventing as well as treating the conditions which are causing the greatest disease burden across our nation.”

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