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Unfit middle-aged facing extra years of bad health

Tuesday July 14th 2020

People in their 40s and 50s now are likely to suffer more years of ill health than those now in their 60s and early 70s, a new study has concluded.

Published today in Population Studies, the UCL-led study compared generations born between 1945 and 1980, examining data from 135,189 people aged between 25 and 64 who took part in the Health Survey of England (HSE) between 1991 and 2014.

Participants were asked if they had poor health, a long-term illness, and a range of chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Nurses also took objective measurements of hypertension, body mass index and glycated haemoglobin.

Researchers compared the results for different age groups and used the data to calculate changes in healthy life expectancy over the generations as well as years likely to be spent in poor health.

They calculated that half of the gains in life expectancy between 1993 and 2003 were likely to be spent in poor health, falling to a fifth of the gains between 2003 and 2013. Later-born cohorts were more likely to have diabetes, to be overweight and to report having cardiovascular disease and poor health in general, while later-born men were more likely to report high blood pressure.

Lead author Dr Stephen Jivraj, of UCL Epidemiology & Public Health, said: “Our study shows that, for those born between 1945 and 1980 the overall trend is towards an increasing proportion of years in poor health, with some health conditions beginning at an earlier age. This has worrying implications for healthcare services, which already face increased demand because of an ageing population.”

Senior author, Professor George Ploubidis, of UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies, added: “Earlier in the 20th century, a rise in life expectancy went hand in hand with an increase in healthy lifespan – younger generations were living longer, healthier lives.

“It appears that, for those generations born between 1945 and 1980, this trend has stalled. Those born later are expected to live longer on average, but with more years of ill health.”

Jivraj S, Goodman A, Pongiglione B et al. Living longer but not necessarily healthier: The joint progress of health and mortality in the working-age population of England. Population Studies 14 July 2020; doi: 10.1080/00324728.2020.1767297

Tags: Fitness | UK News

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