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Healthy Life Expectancy in England Tumbles

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Shocking new figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveal that, in England, healthy life expectancy at birth for a male fell from 63.4 years in 2015–17 to 62.4 years in 2020–22, and from 63.9 years for females in 2015–17 to 62.7 years in 2020–22.

The number of years we can expect to live in “good health” has been climbing consistently since the introduction of the NHS in the 1940s and this sudden fall is a cause for concern, says a leading expert.

Dr Avinash Hari Narayanan (MBChB), Clinical Lead at London Medical Laboratory, says: “It used to be a given that we would all live longer and, crucially, healthier lives than those of the preceding generation. This month’s ONS report on UK Measures of Wellbeing reveals a surprise decrease in the years we may expect to spend in good health.

“In England, healthy life expectancy at birth for a male fell by a year between 2015–17 and 2020–22. Similarly, the period of life lived in good health for a female fell by 1.2 years between 2015–17 and 2020–22. Healthy life expectancy (known as HLE) is defined as the number of years an individual can expect to spend in very good or good general health.

“Once again, good health appears to be a postcode lottery. Of the different UK countries (excluding Scotland), England has the highest expectancy of living in good health and Wales has the lowest. The average healthy life expectancy in Wales is just 61.1 years for males (compared to 62.4 years in England) and 60.3 years for females (compared to 62.7 years in England).

“There’s also a sharp difference in healthy life expectancy at birth between English regions. In the Northeast, it was just 57.6 years for males and 59.7 for females in 2020–22.  In stark contrast, male healthy life expectancy at birth in the Southeast was 64.6 years and 64.7 years for females.

“We agree with the ONS’ conclusion that “it is likely the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic contributed to this decrease.” However, regardless of the pandemic, where you live should not dictate how many years of your life are spent in good or very good general health.

Dr Narayanan added: “The one spark of brighter news is that these declining results don’t necessarily mean that anyone born in 2020–22 will inevitably suffer more prolonged bad health than those born in 2015–17. Improving health over a lifetime involves careful monitoring and medical advances. Regular health testing will be vital to improving underlying health determinants and results.”

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For example, London Medical Laboratory’s General Health Profile blood test monitors seven key areas of health. It includes muscle and bone profile, liver and kidney function, the risk of diabetes (by checking levels of HbA1c), cholesterol and iron levels and even the risk of gout. It can be taken at home through the post or at one of the many drop-in clinics that offer these tests across London and nationwide in over 120 selected pharmacies and health stores.

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