Telegraph Voices: Life expectancy and number of healthy years has stalled - why?

Fly-tipping in Popple Street, Page Hall. Photo: Shaun Outram
Fly-tipping in Popple Street, Page Hall. Photo: Shaun Outram

This is no statistical fluke, it’s a real issue for us to confront

Greg Fell - Public Health Director, Sheffield Council The improvement in life expectancy and healthy life expectancy has ground to a halt.

This has been seen in the USA for a while, and actually in the USA there has been a very small decrease.

The halting of improvement has now been widely documented in England, and now in Sheffield.

There are signs that health inequalities, which probably became smaller during the 2000s, have grown again since 2012.

This is beginning to be seen in a number of sources.

Police officers contro; fans outside hillsboro

Police officers contro; fans outside hillsboro

This is worrying, not chance statistical phenomena but a real issue for us to confront.

It is true to say that we genuinely don’t know why this is happening. The most likely explanations centre on three issues.

This isn’t about “lifestyle choices” individuals make, but it is about the environment that influences those choices. This may now be catching up with people.

Austerity, and the direct and indirect consequences of austerity, is almost certainly not helping.

There is plenty of research evidence.

The implication is that there are more people in poorer health at a slightly younger age than previously.

Adversity in childhood has a huge impact on childhood well-being. We know this. The science is now clear that adversity also has a lifelong impact on adult outcomes in many areas including health and well-being, employment or social behaviour.

Not getting childhood right has a massive bearing in life chances. Sheffield is well placed to respond, and there is a need to build the science into our current models of services and policy, rather than build a new model.

‘There is no health without mental health’ - it’s easy to say, but we haven’t got this right yet.

The final area of focus is on how we address needs in those with multiple illnesses.

We know that healthy life expectancy is not improving. This means we are developing long-term illnesses earlier in our lives and therefore living longer in poor health. This leads to more ‘unhealthy person years’.

We will not solve the health problem until we address the issue of the 25-year gap in healthy life expectancy, and the things that lead to that.

A healthier lifestyle, even in old age, will work - Steve Chu, Age UK Sheffield chief executive

The news that average life expectancy has fallen for the first time may come as a shock. But there are many things we can all do to increase our chances of living longer.

For older people who need support, Age UK Sheffield can provide information, advice and services.

We may not think about this in our younger years but the main things that are most likely to extend our lives are the usual things we are told every week – eat healthily, do regular exercise, stop smoking, and don’t drink too much. Even if you are already into older age, adopting a healthier lifestyle can quickly have an effect, even if it is just a brisk walk for half an hour a day.

Sadly, there are a range of wider social factors that also reduce people’s life expectancy. These include not having enough money, living in cold and draughty housing, and being lonely or socially isolated. Studies have shown that being lonely increases the risk of dementia, and the health effects can be equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Age UK Sheffield provides a range of services to help older people in our city to lead the happiest and most independent life they can lead. We help to bring over £2.5m per year into the pockets of older Sheffielders, in benefits they are entitled to but not claiming.

We connect thousands of over-50s to hundreds of local services and activity groups to keep physically and mentally active. Our dementia centre has a dramatic and positive effect on our clients and their carers.

If you or someone you know is aged over 50 and would like support with benefits, health, housing, social connections, or dementia issues, call us on (0114) 250 2850.

Or call in to our drop-in advice service – we’ve just moved into the Fire Service HQ, opposite the Moor Market and next to Decathlon.

Cut back on the cars and hit the pavement - Bill Stewardson, Sheffield resident

So, life expectancy is on the decline. Which is actually quite surprising given that air quality and water quality is improving.

The culprits would appear to be convenience things, such as fast/processed foods, too many cars and a lack of affordable sports.

I would question the role of processed foods in all of this.

When you look at the weird and not so wonderful stuff that is in much of our supermarket- available food, the mind really does start to see things rather suspiciously.

Do we really know exactly what we are putting into our digestive systems?

What happened to home cooking and fresh ingredients?

Where possible, stuff from the allotment should be used, not some supermarket shelf.

We have far too many cars, and they are being produced in numbers that far outweigh demand. Why? More walking please. Cuts hacking away at public transport has not helped.

Sport in schools has been waning. Surely this is an obvious factor in all this. A fit kid will become a fit adult.

We all know who took milk off the kids.

And we have a diabetes time bomb steadily ticking. Do you think life expectancy will improve?

The more well off have a life expectancy longer than those struggling – what sort of damning fact is that?

I do not begrudge that as much as I find it very demoralising.

Some ways forward: More sport in schools, fewer cars, more cooking fresh stuff at home and accessible fitness programmes for all. Take away the take aways.

Imprint a desire to be healthy on the young. Life science really should be on school agendas – tell them about the goodness in fresh vegetables or stews, rather than chips in polystyrene boxes.

All the above is just my personal view.

Would you like fries with it?

Move more and the benefits will astound - Rob Womack, SIV Healthy Partnerships Manager

One simple thing we can all do to help improve both our life expectancy and our quality of life is to simply move more.

The benefits of becoming more physically active are astounding. Not only does it helps improve physical and mental health, but it helps us be more social, keeps us mobile and, possibly most importantly, helps us to be happy.

At Sheffield International Venues, we’re working hard with our partners to support and reach those who are the least active in the city and we have found that these people are usually living in the poorest areas of Sheffield.

As an organisation, we are committed to making great strides to help improve the health and wellbeing of the city.

SIV are delivering activity programmes for young families within the most deprived areas of the city. We’re testing new ways of engaging children from those areas with swimming lessons, and delivering cook, eat, and play activities during the school holidays.

Our exercise referral scheme supports more than 1,500 people with long term health conditions each year, helping them to improve their quality of life through exercise. We also work with local care homes across Sheffield, offering people with dementia a specialised programme to help them become more active.

We have also partnered with several national charities and government organisations, Sheffield City Council, and local support groups to reach out to the most deprived areas of Sheffield to tackle our shared ambitions.

To help improve life expectancy in Sheffield, we need to continue to work hard together across the city by joining our resources and focusing on those who are inactive, living unhealthy lifestyles and suffering from long term medical conditions.

If we can provide people with the tools and the knowledge to help themselves become more active, we will make great strides towards combatting this issue.