According to a recent study by Public Health England the factors most correlated with ill health and early death in the UK are as follows:
- 10.8 % – poor diet
- 10.7% – tobacco smoke
- 9.5% – being overweight or obese
- 7.9% – high blood pressure
- 5% – alcohol and drug use.
Or to look at it more visually, along with the different immediate causes of death:
What this means is that the main causes of early death are now pretty much entirely ‘lifestyle choices’ and entirely preventable. As the above study says, this means that the UK now has the potential to be the ‘lowest disease burden’ country on earth. In fact, if you just look at the South East of the UK (where most of the wealth is), then that region is pretty much the healthiest on the planet.
The problem is that once you factor in the rest of the UK, with all of the more deprived regions, the health of the nation looks a lot worse, because most of those obese, crisp munching smoking alcoholics, they ain’t in the SE, they’re up North and over West!
As a result, there is a massive ‘life expectancy gap’ in the UK – men in the wealthiest parts live on average 8 years longer than those in the poorest areas.
The research also revealed that while UK life expectancy has increased faster than the rest of Europe, healthy life expectancy hasn’t. This means that as a nation we’re living longer, but spending those extra years in ill-health, which hardly seems like progress!
Can England improve its health just by ‘Public Health Campaigns’?
I’m expecting a lot of these in the coming years. Anti obesity efforts are already in place in schools, but I’m expecting a bigger push, given the enormous burden placed on the NHS by preventable ill-health.
HOWEVER, a better solution might be to sort out the problem of inequality, and to eradicate the kind of deprivation and marginalization that induces people to eat crap food and smoke and drink?
Of course, that’s a difficult goal to achieve, and a very long term one, and also highly unlikely in the context of dogmatic neoliberalism. So it looks like we’ve got a future of poor people being patronized by middle class well-being campaigns, inducing them to ‘sort themselves out’!