One of the ways we protect and improve health is by compiling data that helps professionals make good decisions.
As part of this work we’ve just published ‘Health Profile for England’ which sums up the state of the nation’s health - all in one place - for the first time.
Here are 10 important points the report makes about our health in 2017.
Life expectancy has been rising. Data for 2016 show that based on current mortality rates a baby born in England today would live on average 79.5 years (male) or 83.1 years (female).
It’s great news that we’re living longer but the stats also show that we are spending much of the extra time suffering with poor health – around 16 years of ill health for men and 19 for women.
We’re increasingly concerned about this because an ageing population – struggling with poor health – impacts on families, our workplaces and of course increases pressure on health services and social care.
As a society we need to work together to help people stay well for longer, particularly through quitting smoking, drinking less alcohol, eating well and exercising regularly, as well as looking at the wider issues that affect our health such as jobs, housing and our food environment.
Though heart disease is still a common cause of death, death rates from heart disease and stroke have halved for both men and women since 2001, mainly due to better prevention, diagnosis and treatment.
But during the same period death rates from dementia and Alzheimer’s have increased by 60% in males and have doubled in females, partly due to our ageing population and greater awareness of dementia.
A study called the Global Burden of Disease showed that poor diet and smoking were the behavioural risks that contributed to the largest number of deaths.
As well as looking at causes of death (‘mortality‘) the report also looks at major causes of illness (‘morbidity’).
You might be surprised to learn that the biggest causes of morbidity in England are low back and neck pain followed by skin diseases, with depression in third place.
Along with mental health, poor musculoskeletal health (like back and neck pain) accounts for the majority of sickness absence in the UK, making this an issue of concern beyond the health sector.
Whilst it’s important to study health data across England we also compare ourselves internationally.
Across the 28 countries of the EU, in 2015, the UK was ranked in 10th place for male life expectancy but only in 17th place for female life expectancy.
Looking at other EU countries with large populations, France, Italy and Spain have all seen their life expectancy increasing at a faster rate than ours.
There’s a strong link between wealth and health. Men living in the most deprived areas in England can expect to live 9 fewer years compared to men in the least deprived areas – females can expect to live 7 fewer years.
And both men and women living in the most deprived areas can expect to spend nearly 20 fewer years in good health compared with those in the least deprived areas.
Some people in deprived areas are spending nearly a third of their lives in poor health.
In poorer areas the prevalence of inactivity and smoking are both highest, while the proportion of people eating the recommended 5-a-day of fruits and vegetables is the lowest.
It goes without saying that smoking, having a poor diet and not getting enough exercise are key risk factors for a range of serious diseases.
In 1901, around one third of deaths were due to an infectious disease, but thankfully our modern public health system, vaccines and antibiotics have revolutionised the way we protect ourselves from infections. Now, just 8% of all deaths in England are from infectious disease.
We constantly monitor emerging risks to the UK including the risk posed by infections. This could be emerging or re-emerging diseases, such as Ebola, Zika Virus or pandemic flu.
But scientists and doctors are particularly worried about antimicrobial resistance, which happens when microbes that cause disease (including bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites) are no longer killed by the drugs we’ve previously relied on.
This problem is made worse by overuse and misuse of drugs like antibiotics, which is why we work with professionals and the public to ensure antibiotics are used appropriately. Consumption of antibiotics fell across all healthcare settings for the first time in 2014/15.
For instance, in 2015/16 there were an estimated 24,300 ‘excess deaths’ during winter – that’s the extra deaths that occur in winter compared with the rest of the year (older people are most affected by excess winter deaths, the causes of which are complex, but are considered largely to be due to cold weather and infections like flu).
High temperatures are also associated with excess deaths or illness, particularly in older people, young children and people with long term conditions, as these groups are less able to keep cool.
In the UK, summers have become hotter and by 2040 heatwaves similar to the 2003 heatwave which led to 2,000 excess deaths, are expected to become the norm.
And flood risk is projected to increase during this century, both as a result of climate change and population growth.
Over time we may see illnesses more common in warmer climates (such as West Nile Virus or chikungunya) gaining a foothold if disease transmitting mosquitos became established here.
Long-term exposure to particulate air pollution is linked to thousands of deaths, particularly from heart or lung disease.
In England, it is estimated to have an effect equivalent to around 25,000 deaths every year. Older people, the very young, and people with existing heart and lung conditions are more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution.
This is just a small selection of information taken from ‘Health Profile for England’. Take a look at the full report or subscribe to this blog for more discussion on the state of the nation’s health.