Britain has a worse record of premature death from many diseases than a host of other comparable countries, and the gap is widening, experts have warned.
Between 1990 and 2010 life expectancy in the UK increased by an average of 4.2 years to 79.9 years. But the trend masks worrying declines when matched against other nations with similar levels of health care, it is claimed.
In 1990 the UK ranked tenth in a league table of 19 countries showing years of life lost (YLL) per 100,000 members of the population. YLL is a standard method of measuring levels of premature death. Twenty years later, it had slipped to 14th in the table, with only five countries showing worse figures.
In terms of death rate (numbers of deaths per 100,000), the UK’s position in the table fell from 12th in 1990 to 14th in 2010. Some specific causes of death had a significantly increased impact over the two decades, including Alzheimer’s disease, cirrhosis of the liver and drug use disorders.
For Britain the best news was that it saw the largest fall in death rates from heart disease of any of the 19 countries.
Scientists compared the UK’s record for a range of important health indicators with that of 14 other EU countries, plus Australia, Canada, Norway and the United States. Data was drawn from the Global Burden of Disease Study, published in 2010. The results covered 259 diseases and injuries, and 67 risk factors or risk factor clusters.
Outlining their findings in the Lancet medical journal, the international authors pointed to the UK’s biggest individual risk factors for illness and disease.
Heading the list was tobacco, accounting for 12 per cent of the disease burden, followed by high blood pressure, high body-mass, physical inactivity, alcohol and poor diet.
Levels of disability at specific ages had not improved in the UK over the 20 year period, the study found.
This was a problem shared by all the countries. Major causes of disability varied by age, but included mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, psychosis and substance abuse, and osteo-arthritis and other musculo-skeletal problems.
Across all ages, the top eight diseases responsible for the most years of life lost in the UK remained largely the same in 2010 as those reported in 1990.
In order, these were heart disease, lung cancer, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lower respiratory infections, bowel cancer, breast cancer and self harm.
Years of life lost from drugs increased nearly six-fold over the 20-year period.