Despite an increase in overall life expectancy, the UK is falling significantly behind other high-income countries when it comes to premature deaths from preventable diseases like heart disease and chronic lung disease.
Smoking is still the number one avoidable risk factor for premature death
A team of experts from the UK and the University of Washington compared 20 years of health data from 15 European countries, as well as Australia, Canada, Norway and the US.
Writing in the Lancet, they found that the UK’s average life expectancy has risen by four years since 1990, with the average person now living until the age of 79.9.
However, the data also revealed that the premature death rate had hardly changed in the years since 1990 in the UK for men and women aged 20-54, whilst other countries had improved.
In 1990, the UK ranked 10th in the league table of premature deaths for 19 countries. But by 2010, the UK had fallen to 14th in the table.
In the UK, we can expect 68.8 healthy years of life before disease and disability begin to take a toll.
When it came to the leading causes of premature death in the UK, heart disease, cancers and chronic lung disease were found to be the biggest killers.
The main health risk factors for the UK were found to be tobacco smoke (including second hand smoke), high blood pressure, obesity, inactivity, alcohol use and poor diet.
In addition, the number of premature deaths has actually increased for some disorders, including liver disease and drug-use disorders and alcohol. There has also been a large rise in Alzheimer’s disease, cases of which have increased by 137% since 1990.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who is responsible for health policy in England, wants the premature death rate in England to reduce by 30,000 by 2020. He said:
"For too long we have been lagging behind and I want the reformed health system to take up this challenge and turn this shocking underperformance around."
Professor John Newton, chief knowledge officer of Public Health England, said: "Despite some enviable recent success, for example on smoking, we in the UK need to take a hard look at what can be done to help people in the UK achieve the levels of health already enjoyed by other some countries.”
Many health insurance policies offer discounted gym memberships to encourage their customers to stay active, with others lowering their premiums for people who don’t smoke and remain at a healthy weight.
Data was drawn from the Global Burden of Disease Study, published in 2010.
© ActiveQuote Ltd. 2013