In about ten years, life expectancy of a substantial number of English communities experienced a decline and in five years before the pandemic it went down almost one in five communities for women, and one in nine communities for men.
The new findings have come up in a study held by Imperial College London researchers.
The researchers found that communities with lowest life expectancy (below 70 and 75 years for men and women, respectively) were typically situated in urban areas in the North of England.
The recent data from the Office for National Statistics also pictures that life expectancy for men in the United Kingdom fell for the first time in 40 years because of COVID-19 pandemic. This study by Imperial College London researchers shows that life expectancy was declining in several communities years before the Covid 19 pandemic began.
The study published in The Lancet Public Health journal was funded by the Wellcome Trust, Imperial College London, the Medical Research Council, Health Data Research UK and the National Institute of Health Research.
Senior author, Professor Majid Ezzati (School of Public Health at Imperial College London), said that everyone’s health in the |UK is improving is a wrong impression. The author noted that declines in life expectancy used to be rare in wealthy countries like the UK and that too only at times of wars and pandemics. However, the decline that is seen now before tyhe pandemic was alarming, lead author Ezzati said.
Trends over time
In the new study, the researchers analysed all deaths in the UK from 2002 to 2019. They looked at records of more than 8.6 million deaths and assigned them to the community where each person lived at the time of their death. They came included 6,791 local communities in the study and they assessed life expectancy trends over time for each of these for men and women.
In the study, they discovered that the vast majority of communities saw their life expectancy increase between 2002 and 2010. However, longevity began declining for women in one in 20 communities and in one community for men between 2010 and 2014. This accelerated and spread from 2014-2019, with life expectancy declining for women in almost one in five communities and in one in nine communities for men. They also saw a decline between 2014-19 by an average of 0.17 years for women (around two months) and 0.12 years for men (around a month and a half) in some communities.
Stark geographical differences
The study found that the biggest life expectancy decline seen for women from 2002 to 2019 was a loss of three years for an area of Leeds (from 78.7 to 75.6 years) and for men was of 0.4 years in a part of Blackpool (from 68.7 to 68.3 years). The researchers said that they came across reversals in life expectancy for women in a number of communities in Yorkshire and The Humber over this time.
The researchers note that the regions where life expectancy declines occurred often already had lower life expectancy, and high levels of poverty, unemployment, and low education. However some parts in Central and North London saw an increase of nine years in life expectancy or more between 2002 and 2019.
These trends created stark geographical differences. In 2019, there was about a 20-year gap in life expectancy for women living in communities with the highest and lowest life expectancies (one region of Camden had a life expectancy of 95.4 years, compared to a community in Leeds with a life expectancy of 74.7 years).
For men, the gap was 27 years (life expectancy in one area within Kensington and Chelsea was 95.3 years, compared to 68.3 years in a part of Blackpool).
Communities located in urban areas in the North, including Leeds, Newcastle, Manchester, Liverpool and Blackpool had the lowest life expectancy. Meanwhile, London and surrounding home counties recorded highest life expectancy.
The researchers note that results mirror an earlier trend in the United States, which saw life expectancy declines prior to the pandemic. In both England and the US, life expectancy declines are associated with unemployment and insecure employment following deindustrialisation, compounded by reductions in social and welfare support, and reduced funding for local governments.
The study has called for urgent action to stop the deterioration and improve health in disadvantaged communities. They call on the Government to increase investments in public health and healthcare in communities with lower life expectancy, and to introduce pro-equity economic and social policies.
Ezzati noted that the post-COVID ‘Build Back Better’ agenda can create an opportunity for better health, but it currently does not focus on equity and the resources allocated to ‘levelling up’ agenda are too little to address these concerning trends. The professor pointed out that the government must make significant investments in people, communities and health services to first reverse this deterioration of health in so many communities.