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Long lives with more disability, study shows

The UK has higher levels of ill health and premature death than 18 other Western countries, new research shows. 

Published in The Lancet today, the research shows that although life expectancy rose by 4.2 years between 1990 and 2010, levels of disability have not improved. 

Researchers suggest this means people in the UK are living longer but with an expectation of longer periods of disability. 

There have also been “marked” increases in Alzheimer's disease, cirrhosis of the liver and drug use disorders. 

Early intervention 

The biggest risk factors for disease and illness in the UK are tobacco, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, alcohol use and poor diet. 

“The NHS must pay more attention to prevention and early intervention but the underlying causes often have little to do with health care,” Professor John Newton, Chief Knowledge Officer at Public Health England said. 

Professor Newton, who co-authored the study said: “The data on contribution of different risk factors clearly show the need to redouble our efforts on smoking, high blood pressure and obesity.” 

'Call to action' 

Following the findings, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has launched a “call to action” to cut avoidable deaths from cardiovascular diseases. 

The plans could save 30,000 lives by 2020, Hunt 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,” the Health Secretary said. 

He said the proposals will improve patient experience and deliver “longer healthier lives”. 

The report compared how the health of the UK compared with 14 other EU countries as well as Australia, Canada, Norway and the United States. 

Cardiovascular disease strategy 

Government plans will “build on existing work and guidance” and set out ten key actions. 

More people will be trained in using defibrillators or CPR as part of a drive to provide better acute care and increase bystander intervention. 

All family members of younger people who suddenly die from cardiac conditions will be tested, in the hopes of identifying those with inherited problems. 

The “disjointed” treatment in which patients visit numerous consultants and services could be ended, according to the plans. 

There will be increased promotion of NHS Health Checks to improve prevention and management of those at risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), and better detection of risk factors. 

The government also hopes healthcare providers around the country will start to meet the performance targets of the best. 

Peter Hollins, chief executive of the British Heart Foundation (BHF) believes the strategy has “all the ingredients” to tackle the threat posed by cardiovascular diseases. 

He said: “This is a valuable blueprint and the onus is now on commissioners and local authorities to deliver, ensuring that people with heart and circulatory disease receive the best possible care."


For people aged between 20-54, the causes of death have “hardly changed” since 1990, according to the report. 

The leading causes of death are heart disease, self-harm, liver disease, breast cancer and road injury. 

In this age group, the number years of life lost to liver disease, drug-use disorders and alcohol have increased, cancelling out the drop in cancer and road deaths. 

Since the last Global Burden of Disease report, years of life lost to drug-use disorders have increased six-fold.