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BMJ. 2007 October 27; 335(7625): 843.
PMCID: PMC2043431

Much still needs to be done in England to tackle health inequalities, health department admits

Men and women living in the north of England can expect to live two years less than those in the south, latest government statistics show.

A north-south divide—with higher rates of smoking, more deaths from smoking, more binge drinking, and twice as many families receiving means tested benefits in areas of the north—continues to exist, says a new report from the Department of Health.

Twice as many men in the North East governmental region as in the South East think they are in poor health, and the number of hospital admissions for alcohol related conditions in the North West is 2.5 times that in the East of England region (East Anglia, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, and Essex).

“There is a consistent ‘north-south' divide, with poorer health in the north in comparison to the south in almost all cases,” says the report.

Compared with the 15 countries that constituted the European Union up to 2004, life expectancy of women in England in 2004 was below the EU average (81.5 years against an average of 82.5 years). Women's life expectancy was highest in France, at 84 years. Men's life expectancy in England (76.9) was just above the EU average (76.7), but Sweden had the highest male life expectancy, at 78.3 years.years.

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The report identifies a rising prevalence of obesity, drinking, chronic liver disease, and cirrhosis and the highest rate of teenage pregnancy of the 15 countries in the EU to 2004 as among major areas of concern in England.

The report shows that many aspects of the English nation's health have improved—including an increasing life expectancy, falling mortality from cancers and circulatory diseases, the lowest ever infant mortality, and a drop in the number of people smoking and of deaths from smoking. But it says that even where there have been improvements, health inequalities are often present.

It says, “There is a distinct north-south divide for female life expectancy at birth. In all regions from the Midlands northwards, female life expectancy is significantly shorter than in the regions to the south.

“Women in the North East and North West live over two years less than those in the South East and South West. Men in the North East and North West live over two and a half years less than those in the South East and South West.”

Obesity is a continuing national problem, the report says. In the 10 years to 2005, it says, the proportion of children who were obese rose by more than 50%. The proportion of obese men rose by more than 40% and of women by almost 35%. Of the 15 pre-2004 EU countries England has the highest prevalence of obesity.

Drinking is another area of concern, the report says. The number of deaths from chronic liver disease and cirrhosis has risen markedly, and England is now above the average of the 15 pre-2004 EU countries. In 1970 England had the lowest rates of premature death among men from chronic liver disease and cirrhosis in the EU. The number of young women dying of alcohol related conditions has increased.

The report also says that the UK has the highest proportion of teenage mothers in western Europe and that the prevalence of diabetes has risen among men and women, with a marked rise between 1998 and 2003.

The public health minister, Dawn Primarolo, said, “This report shows that mortality rates from cancers, circulatory diseases, and suicides are declining. Infant mortality has reduced and is now at its lowest ever level. But there is still a lot to do in tackling health inequalities.”

Notes

Health Profile of England 2007 is available at www.dh.gov.uk.


Articles from The BMJ are provided here courtesy of BMJ Publishing Group