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Life expectancy improvements in England and Wales 'among the worst' - study

Joe Giddens/PA Wire

By Joe Gammie, PA

England and Wales has some of the worst life expectancy improvements across 23 "high-income" countries, a new study has revealed.

A team of researchers compared life expectancy and mortality rates in England and Wales from 1970 to 2016 with those of 22 other countries including Scotland, Ireland, France, Australia, the USA and Japan.

Their study said life expectancy at birth among men in England and Wales was 79.0 years and for women was 82.9 years in 2011, increasing by 0.4 years for men and 0.1 years for women by 2016.

Of the 22 other countries studied only two saw a smaller improvement for men during this period while just one had a lower figure for women.

Lead author Professor David Leon from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said: "We are concerned that the configuration of economic and social forces that have operated since the middle of the 20th century that have enabled the advances in life expectancy seen since the 1950s are not necessarily going to remain.

"Today the world is facing major challenges, from climate change to the disruption of long-established aspects of international collaboration and co-operation, many of which may have a negative impact on future health progress."

Norway had the highest increase in male life expectancy at 1.62 years between 2011 and 2016 while Luxembourg had the highest for women at 1.57 years.

The study, carried out by a team from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Germany, was published in The Lancet Public Health on Wednesday.

It is the first study to measure how far trends in England and Wales compared with a group of other high-income countries, the authors said.

The team said that a slowdown in the rate of increase of life expectancy since 2011 was seen in many of the other countries but the trends in England and Wales between 2011 and 2016 were "among the worst".

They stressed the slowdown was not due to reaching a "limit of life expectancy" because several countries with higher life expectancy than the UK were continuing to improve at a higher rate.

The authors said that it was a result of a slowing in the decline in mortality rates in every adult age across both men and women from young adults to the middle aged and elderly.

Mortality rates among men and women between the ages of 25 and 50 years in England and Wales were now 20% to 40% higher than the median for the 22 other countries, they added.

Professor Leon said: "These trends represent a real reversal of the situation in England and Wales in the 1970s and 1980s, when this working-age group had lower mortality than seen elsewhere, almost certainly in part because in this period the UK as a whole had notably low mortality from external causes such as injuries, poisonings and violence.

"Further work is urgently required to understand what the reasons are for this reversal since 2000, and how far it may be due to adverse trends in injuries, violence and alcohol or drug-related deaths."

From the early 1970s until 2010 male life expectancy in England and Wales followed the median level seen for the 22 other countries rising from 68.9 years in 1970 to 79.4 years in 2016, the study found.

But women in England and Wales lagged behind most of the other high-income countries rising from 75.2 years in 1970 to 83.0 years in 2016, it added.

Researchers said this was due in part to women taking up smoking earlier and more intensively than women in most other countries.