National Health: UK Lags Behind Europe

03/12/2013

Photo: Health in UK

The UK lags behind Europe and several other countries in key measures of health; © panthermedia.net/
PHUCHONG CHOKSAMAI

A new paper reveals that UK lags behind much of Europe on key measures of health: British people spend more time with chronic illness and disability than most Europeans. Young adults are hit hard by alcohol and drug use.

Britons are living longer lives and enjoying better health, but they are still grappling with disabling conditions such as back and neck pain and depression, often more than people in most other European countries. Health in the United Kingdom is eroded by preventable causes of death such as smoking, unhealthy diets, and use of alcohol and drugs. As a result, the UK's pace of decline in premature mortality has fallen well behind the average of 14 other original members of the European Union, Australia, Canada, Norway, and the United States (EU15+) over the past 20 years. These are some of the UK findings published from the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors 2010 Study (GBD 2010), a collaborative project led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington.

These findings detail the causes of death and disability – across age groups and genders – for 187 countries around the world. GBD 2010 encompasses researchers from more than 300 institutions and 50 countries. IHME and other members of the GBD collaborative worked with researchers from Public Health England and leading UK institutions to provide a benchmark of health outcomes that builds on strong measurement systems in the country and fills in data gaps where necessary. The UK, which has some of the best health data in the world, was able to use the GBD platform to compare its progress to that of other countries.

The GBD findings reveal surprising trends in British health, which has improved significantly since 1990. The UK does well compared to other European countries in terms of avoiding premature deaths due to diabetes, chronic kidney disease, road injuries, and liver cancer. However, it has not kept pace with other nations (and still has death rates significantly above the average of EU15+) for ischaemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lower respiratory infections, breast cancer, other heart and circulatory disorders, oesophageal cancer, congenital abnormalities, preterm birth complications, and aortic aneurysm.

The pace of decline in mortality for British men and women in their prime adult years of 20 to 54 has worsened relative to that of other countries. While the UK has made progress against forms of cancer – including a ramp up of early screenings for cervical cancer – that affect young people, increases in alcohol and drug use have proven deadly. Drug and alcohol use disorders, which were ranked as two of the least important causes of death in this age group in 1990, rose to sixth and 18th place in 2010, respectively. Only in men older than 55 has the UK experienced significantly faster drops in death rates compared with other nations over the last 20 years.

The UK is grappling with more chronic disability than ever before. The major causes of disability include back and neck pain, mental disorders like depression and anxiety, drug abuse, and injuries from falls. A Briton is likely to lose more years to disability than the average citizen of 54 other countries, including Belgium, France, and the US, and even middle-income countries such as Mexico, Romania, and Thailand. These causes of disability are often not causes of death, but their toll on health is dramatic.

MEDICA.de; Source: Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation