ONS data reveals shocking life expectancy gaps across UK

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Where you live should not determine how long you live. Regular testing is needed to end the postcode health lottery, a leading expert has said.

Shocking new official figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show a 12.9 year difference in life expectancy for a woman in Kensington and Chelsea compared to a man in Blackpool.

New life expectancy figures for local areas in England, Northern Ireland and Wales reveal that male life expectancy at birth is highest (in the area around Fleet in Hampshire) at 83.7 years and Blackpool is lowest at 73.4 years. That’s a gap of more than a decade. Women’s life expectancy in London’s Kensington and Chelsea was the highest at 86.3 years and in Blaenau Gwent, Wales (78.9 years), the lowest by seven years.

This postcode health lottery should not be allowed to continue, says a leading health expert.

Where we were born in the UK we should not be given a shorter life than other Britons. The difference between the life expectancy figures for a Chelsea girl and a Blackpool boy is unacceptable. Regular health checks and screenings will be powerful tools to ensure that women born in Blaenau Gwent and men born in Hart survive equally and live healthy lives.”

Dr Avinash Hari Narayanan (MBCHB), Clinical Lead, London Medical Laboratory (LML)

‘The more we examine these figures, the more concerning they become. In England, Northern Ireland and Wales, life expectancy at birth in 2020-22 was actually lower for both men and women than in 2017-19. And the North-South health divide is clear. Nine of the 10 local areas with the longest male life expectancy were in the south of England. For women, the 10 fields with the highest life expectancy were in the South.

‘The North-South health divide is a national concern that urgently needs to be addressed. The English regions with the highest and lowest male life expectancy are the South East (80.1 years) and the North East (77.2 years) respectively, a gap of three years. The English regions with the highest and lowest female life expectancy are respectively the South West (83.9 years) and the North East (81.2 years), a gap of almost three years.

‘It is important to note that the ONS acknowledges that the reduction in life expectancy does not mean that a child born in 2020-22 will inevitably live a shorter life than a child born in 2017-19. Their average life expectancy will be determined by the change in mortality rates throughout their lifetime and, if they improve, the duration of life expectancy will increase. Regular health checkups can be important for improving underlying health determinants and outcomes.

‘Many potentially fatal conditions can be detected with regular blood tests before people even start showing symptoms. The most recent monthly mortality figures we have (July, 2023) show that the leading cause of death in both England and Wales was “ischemic” heart disease (9.9% of deaths in England and 9.6% of deaths in Wales). Ischemic heart diseases are those caused by a blockage in the coronary blood vessels due to lack of adequate blood flow to the heart. This condition is strongly associated with a wide range of health problems, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

‘There is no reason why the heart of a man born in the heart is any healthier than anywhere else. The latest heart health blood test accurately identifies the main causes of heart complications. Wherever we live in Britain, these tests are readily available and can be used as the basis of treatment plans that can help close the north-south health divide.

‘London Medical Laboratory’s Heart Health Profile test is already widely used to detect many conditions. Simple, finger-prick blood tests indicate heart health risks and include a complete cholesterol profile, as well as tests for inflammation. It also tests for diabetes, showing how well the body controls blood sugar.

‘The Heart Health Profile test can be taken by post at home or at one of the many drop-in clinics that offer these tests at over 120 selected pharmacies and health shops in London and nationwide.’

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