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Some 43% of adults have a longstanding medical problem

Health survey finds ill-health worse in deprived areas

Jo Carlowe

Wednesday, 04 December 2019

Too many people are living in unhealthy environments that are contributing to poor health.

This is the message from the British Medical Association (BMA) which says the government must do more to address health inequalities. This follows the publication this week of the Health Survey for England (HSE) 2018.

The HSE, published by NHS Digital, monitors trends in the nation’s health and care. A total of 8,178 adults (aged 16 and over) and 2,072 children (aged 0 to 15) were interviewed in the 2018 survey. 4,825 adults and 1,103 children had a nurse visit.

Each survey in the series includes core questions, and measurements such as blood pressure, height and weight measurements and analysis of blood and saliva samples. In addition, there are modules of questions on specific topics that vary from year to year.

The survey found that 43% of adults aged 16 and over had a least one longstanding medial problem, and 16% of children. Notably, 48% of adults in the most deprived areas had one or more longstanding conditions, compared with 38% or those in the least deprived areas. And mental, behavioural and neurodevelopmental conditions were nearly twice as common in the most deprived (13%) as in the least deprived areas (7%), and the same was true of respiratory conditions. Similar patterns were seen with other conditions.

Obesity was also found to be a huge problem, with the HSE reporting that more than half (56%) of adults were at increased, high or very high risk of chronic disease due to their waist circumference and BMI, with 26% of men and 29% of women registering as obese. Some 27% of adults reported less than 30 minutes of moderate or vigorous physical activity per week and were classified as “inactive”.

Responding to the Health Survey for England 2018, BMA board of science chair Professor Dame Parveen Kumar said: “The latest Health Survey for England reveals that far too many children and adults are living in unhealthy environments that are contributing to poor health. Each child deserves a healthy start in life but sadly this is not the case.

“The number of adults and children who are overweight and obese remains alarmingly high. Clearly there is a need for further action to tackle unhealthy food marketing and to create healthier food environments. The power and influence of this industry cannot be underestimated, and the government must act to protect the population from the dangerous impact of this.”

Professor Dame Kumar added: “Far too many adults are not getting the level of physical activity they require. Recent BMA research* highlighted a need to reform key aspects of our environment – work, leisure, schools and travel - to encourage the uptake of physical activity.

“It is a real shame that time and time again, those living in the most deprived areas are subject to poorer health. They lack access to services and live in unhealthy environments – the government must do more to address these inequalities.”

The survey also revealed that 39% of adults had participated in some form of gambling activity during the previous 12 months (excluding the National Lottery). Commenting on this aspect of the findings, Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS in England said:  “These new stats are a stark reminder of how common gambling is in our society, and how easy it is to become addicted, particularly with the aggressive push into online gambling.

“The NHS never stands still as health needs change, which is why we're rolling out new specialist services to tackle mental ill health linked to gambling addiction, as part of our Long Term Plan. But it is high time that all these firms who spend many millions on marketing and advertising step up to the plate and take their responsibilities seriously.”

*Get a Move on – steps to increase physical activity. A report prepared by the British Medical Association, October 2019.

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