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Many Britons leading unhealthy lifestyles, says OECD health report

By Jane Kirby, PA Health Editor

Britons lead more unhealthy lifestyles than people in many other developed countries and have fewer doctors and nurses per head of population, a new report says.

The study, from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), found Britons drink more alcohol and are on average more likely to be obese than across other member countries.

The OECD is made up of 36 nations, including Australia, Belgium, the US, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Israel, Japan, Spain and Mexico.

The health report found the UK spends almost 10% of its GDP on health, about one percentage point higher than the OECD average, and this is projected to reach 11.4% by 2030.

However, the amount is lower than other countries, with the US spending the most at 16.9% of GDP, above Switzerland, the next highest spending country, at 12.2%.

Germany, France, Sweden and Japan all spent close to 11% of GDP in 2018.

Nevertheless, the study found that the UK level of spending "buys strong access to health care, with low levels of inequality".

But it said access to long-term care was a challenge, and that UK Government spending on long-term care was below the OECD average.

The report said "many British people lead unhealthy lifestyles", adding that while smoking rates are slightly below the OECD average, alcohol consumption is high - adults consume 9.7 litres per capita, almost a litre more than the OECD average of 8.9 litres.

Meanwhile, 64% of adults are overweight or obese, compared with the OECD average of 56%.

The "abusive use of opioids" is also a concern, the authors say, with a large increase in opioid-related deaths, reaching 41 deaths per million people in 2016, up from 28 deaths in 2011.

The UK also has fewer doctors and nurses serving the population than in many OECD countries - 2.8 doctors and 7.8 nurses per 1,000 people, compared with OECD averages of 3.5 and 8.8.

The study went on: "As with many OECD countries, the UK population is ageing rapidly.

"Yet many older British people are in poor health, with only 50% of women's lives and 60% of men's lives disability-free after age 65.

"There are large health inequalities among older people, with almost one in two adults (48%) aged 65 and over from the lowest income quintile reporting ill health (as compared with 25% amongst adults from the highest income quintile).

"Dementia prevalence is also high, at 17.5 per 1,000 people.

"Good quality long-term care is particularly important for improving the quality of life for older populations.

"While access to health care overall is strong in the United Kingdom, when it comes to long-term care, access is more limited."

The study found that care home costs for somebody with severe long-term needs were almost twice the typical income of a person of retirement age.

"Informal carers share a heavy burden, with nearly one in five (18%) of people aged 50 and over acting as informal carers, the fourth highest among the 18 OECD countries with comparable data," the report said.

"In contrast, the formal long-term care workforce has declined over time."

Looking at all countries, the study found that health spending is set to outpace GDP growth up until 2030.