Is life expectancy falling?
What's the picture in the UK?
The media are now reporting that expectations of life expectancy are falling. The Guardian, for example, quotes experts as saying that this decline in forecast longevity in England and Wales is ‘a trend as opposed to a blip.’ Compared with 2015, projections for life expectancy are now down by 13 months for men and 14 months for women.
We need to be clear that we are talking about forecast rather than actual life expectancy (which is expected to continue to increase but more gradually than anticipated).
This is good news for pension funds (which can now plan to set aside less money to cover long term pension costs) and for the Treasury (as the State Pension age keeps being raised but it now seems that people won’t be around for as long as expected to receive their pensions).
It isn’t good news for ordinary people – and it reinforces the case for a preventative approach to health, to increase the chances of people living longer, healthier lives.
That’s why we’ll be continuing to campaign for this as Health Action Campaign and why government action on prevention is so important.
Are people now dying younger than expected?
This seems to be a possibility in both the US and the UK.
- In the US life expectancy has fallen, as more people die before the age of 55.
- In the UK, after decades that saw people living longer, life expectancy is now stalling - and has fallen behind most other Western European countries.
- There has been in increase in strokes among younger and middle aged people in both the US and the UK.
A number of reasons have been suggested for this, from rising levels of obesity to government austerity programmes to drug use. At Health Action Campaign our review of the evidence suggests that what goes on OUTSIDE the NHS has a big impact on health, from lifestyle to life chances to social care. That's why we think the government needs to look beyond the symptoms (like stalling life expectancy and the NHS winter crisis) and to start to address the underlying causes of ill health in the UK.
Are people in the UK spending more years in poor health?
Public Health England has published its Health Profile for England 2018. There's a range of interesting information about the health of the nation, including some good news. For example fewer people are smoking and more action has been taken to reduce high blood pressure and high cholesterol - resulting in positive health gains.
However, the report also notes that:
- Life expectancy had been increasing but this increase has now slowed
- There has been little increase in healthy life expectancy (the number of years spent in good health)
- The number of people with long term health conditions, most of the most common of which are preventable, has increased.
- People in the richest areas enjoy an average of 19 more years in good health than those in the poorest
If this were an inspection report on the nation's health it would probably conclude that much improvement is still needed, not least to tackle the current health inequalities between rich and poor - and particularly where the causes of ill health are preventable.
This remains very much our view at Health Action Campaign, where we continue to make the case that prevention is better than cure.