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UK ranks badly in European health league table

The UK is lagging behind progress by similar countries on many indicators for ill health, research suggests.UK ranks badly in European health league tableHealth data over 20 years was compared with figures from 18 other countries in the research published in the Lancet.

Although average life expectancy has risen by four years since 1990, it says the UK needs to increase its strategies for tackling preventable problems such as heart disease and stroke.

The team of experts from the UK and the University of Washington in Seattle said the UK had a high burden of smoking-related illnesses, and greater priority should be given to reducing lung disease.

There was also a large rise in the number of recorded deaths related to Alzheimer’s Disease.

The big five avoidable killers:

  1.     Heart disease
  2.     Cancer
  3.     Stroke
  4.     Lung disease
  5.     Liver disease

In the 20 years from 1990 to 2010 that The Lancet study examined, average life expectancy increased by 4.2 years in the UK to 79.9 years.

But the premature death rate had hardly changed in the UK for both men and women aged 20-54.

These are linked to avoidable risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure and obesity, which are still all too common in the UK, say Chris Murray, from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, University of Washington, USA, and colleagues who carried out the analysis of global data.

But progress is being made on conditions like diabetes, where the UK appears to be ahead of many of its European neighbours and other high-income countries like the US and Canada.

Prof Murray says the UK also faces fresh challenges, like its growing burden of disability from alcohol use and a 137% rise in deaths linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

He and his team also acknowledged that making firm conclusions based on data from different countries was inherently problematic – not all record the same information and each has its own unique issues and policies that made interpretation and comparison difficult.

Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics suggested people in the UK were living in good health for longer.

But the UK still measures up poorly compared with other countries – it ranked 12 out of the 19 countries in the Lancet study.

Britons have 68.6 years of healthy life, whereas people in top-ranked country, Spain, have 70.9 years of healthy life on average.

In an accompanying editorial in The Lancet, Edmund Jessop from the UK Faculty of Public Health in London said the UK had done very well in many areas of public health – it had stronger tobacco control than any other country in Europe, for example – but there was still “plenty of room for bold action by politicians”.

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