The UK has long been celebrated for its achievement in providing free health care for all of its citizens. Advancements in the medical field for diseases like cancer, aids and disability have been considerable in offering better survival rates for patients. Yet, it is far behind the rest of Europe in the race to better health.
"I want to turn this shocking under-performance around."
In a new Global Burden of Disease Study that monitors the health of nations in the EU, as well as Canada, Australia and the USA, Britain ranked a low 14 out of 19 for health.
The average life expectancy for the UK is 79.9 years, which is an increase of only 4.2 years in the last 20 years. Spain boasts the biggest increase, making its life expectancy 81.4 years. In addition, people in Britain can only expect 68.6 years of healthy life before disease, illness and disability will take hold.
Considering the national retirement age for Britons is at 65, with the likelihood of this increasing to 70 in the coming years, such a statistic is slightly worrying.
Health Minister Jeremy Hunt said, “Despite real progress in cutting deaths we remain a poor relative to our global cousins on many measures of health, something I want to change.
“For too long we have been lagging behind and I want the reformed health system to take up this challenge and turn this shocking under-performance around.”
Hunt added that such results were costing Britain 30,000 lives each year.
Co-author of the study Kevin Fenton, said the findings were a “wake-up call”.
“While it’s encouraging that overall, the health of the UK has improved substantially since the last report, the pace of improvement is not enough.
The UK is found to be below average on numerous health and lifestyle related issues which is stunting its life expectancy rate compared to many other wealthy countries, and it has its huge tobacco and alcohol intake to thank.
The top life-threatening diseases in Britain are heart disease, lung cancer, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lower respiratory infections, colorectal cancer, breast cancer and self-harm.
Despite its achievements in research and prevention of some life-threatening diseases, tobacco and alcohol have been listed as the biggest killers in today’s society.
Although banned in public places for a number of years, tobacco intake and cigarette smoking remains one of the biggest factors of a shortened life expectancy compared to other countries, and is responsible for nearly 12% of the diseases developed above.
This is followed by high blood pressure, high body mass, physical inactivity, alcohol, and poor diet.
Britain also suffers from one of the highest premature deaths for 20-54 year olds. Most of this is accounted for in its high drug and alcohol intake, and this has not changed for 20 years.
Co-founder of the Global Burden of Disease Project said, “We found that the UK had made significant improvements in health overall, but those were masking serious problems in certain age groups.”
“If you look at adults aged 20-54, increases in deaths from alcohol and drugs overshadowed the substantial reductions in deaths from greater cervical cancer screenings and efforts to reduce road traffic injuries.”
The study has thrown into light the reduced healthy lifestyle of many Britons across the country. For the South Asian communities living here, heart disease and diabetes remain the biggest killers. Most of this is down to a poor diet, which sees a higher fat and sugars intake, as well as lack of exercise.
Pakistani and Bangladeshi men are also found to be the biggest smokers, and are at the most risk of contracting a smoke-related illness or disease.
Issues relating to binge drinking and drug abuse among younger generations across all communities are also beginning to take its toll, leading to higher premature deaths. The boom of the fast food industry that is starting to catch up with America is also a huge concern for younger generations. 30.3% of children between 2 and 15 years are overweight or obese in the UK.
Fast foods, less cooking at home, binge drinking club nights, not having time for proper lunch or dinner, driving everywhere and having a sedative lifestyle all account for health problems. Asian diets have not changed from eating foods which are rich and high in fat, and Asians are not as active other communities, making them targets for life expectancy issues.
In its conclusion, the study read, ‘The performance of the UK in terms of premature mortality is persistently and significantly below the mean of EU15+ and requires additional concerted action. Further progress in premature mortality from several major causes, such as cardiovascular diseases and cancers, will probably require improved public health, prevention, early intervention, and treatment activities.’
Hunt agreed with the findings, adding that the NHS was also a big part of the problem. He claimed that some mistreatment of patients or incorrect diagnoses were some of the reasons why patients were more likely to develop severe illnesses and diseases. He insisted that more needed to be done to ensure the NHS did not turn vulnerable patients away.
But of course the fact remains, an unhealthy lifestyle and lack of physical activity are the biggest problems that Britons face in today’s society, especially among the younger generations where obesity is becoming second nature. Without immediate action, the nation’s life expectancy is unlikely to improve any time soon.
Indian athletes PV Sindhu and Sakshi Malik are amongst those awarded India’s highest sporting honour for their performances at Rio 2016.