What affects life expectancy and what are the trends in the UK?
Back in 1841, reaching your 50th birthday would have been a huge cause for celebration. Life expectancy for Victorians was just 40 for men and 42 for women, partly because of the number of infant deaths and also due to poor living and working conditions.
In the almost 180 years since data was first collected, life expectancy in the UK has more than doubled. So, what age can you expect to live to? And what are the factors that determine how long a life you might lead?
Revealed: the current life expectancy in the UK
The Office for National Statistics regularly monitors how long people in the UK can expect to live. The most recent figures showed that:
- Baby boys born in the UK in 2018 can expect to live, on average, to age 87.6 years
- Baby girls born in the UK in 2018 can expect to live, on average, to age 90.2 years
If you were aged 65 years in the UK in 2018, you can expect to live on average a further 19.9 years if you’re a man, and 22 years if you’re a woman.
In the next 25 years, life expectancy at birth in the UK is projected to increase by 2.8 years to reach 90.4 years for boys and by 2.4 years to 92.6 years for girls born in 2043.
In 2043 in the UK, more than one in five new born boys (20.8%) and more than one in four new born girls (26.1%) are expected to live to at least 100 years of age, an increase from 13.6% for boys and 18.2% for girls born in 2018.
You can get an estimate of your life expectancy by using the Office for National Statistics’ life expectancy calculator. This assumes future mortality improvements to give you a statistical estimate, and you can also find out your chances of surviving to age 100.
5 factors that influence how long you will live
So, we’ve established what your life expectancy could be. Here are five factors that influence how long you will live.
Even though the popularity of smoking has fallen, it remains the biggest cause of preventable death in England. In 2015, around 79,000 (one in six) deaths were linked to smoking.
Areas with higher numbers of smokers generally have a lower healthy life expectancy. For example, people in Hull are nearly three times more likely to smoke than those who live in Wokingham. Healthy life expectancy in Hull is around 15 years shorter than in Wokingham for both men and women.
The harmful effects of drinking alcohol can be measured using alcohol-related hospital admissions, which are far more common in some areas than others.
For example, research has found that there are more than 1,200 alcohol-related hospital admissions per 100,000 people in Blackpool, nearly 200 per 100,000 more than anywhere else in England. The result is that neither men nor women in Blackpool are expected to live 60 years in good health.
In contrast, there were fewer than 400 admissions per 100,000 people in Wokingham, the lowest in England.
Alcohol-related hospital admissions reflect the underlying harmful drinking behaviour of an area, so tend to be higher in areas with lower healthy life expectancy.
It will not surprise you to learn that areas with a higher proportion of people who eat a healthy diet have a higher life expectancy.
For example, more than 60% of people living in Rutland reported consuming at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day in 2015. On the other hand, nearly two in every three Liverpudlians failed to meet the guideline. Check out our article on foods that are great for your heart here
Healthy life expectancy in Rutland is roughly 13 years longer than in Liverpool.
4. Physical activity
Government guidelines suggest that you should undertake at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity every week, such as cycling and fast walking. More than half of adults in England (57%) were meeting this guideline in 2013 to 2015.
Research has found that York was the most active area in England, with nearly 70% of adults meeting the exercise guideline. Healthy life expectancy (the number of healthy years you can expect to live) is above average at 66 for males and females in York.
Conversely, the London borough of Newham is the least active area for adults in England (less than 45% of adults met the recommendation). People born in Newham in 2013 to 2015 are likely to live only 60 years in good health – six years less than in York.
5. Where you live
Life expectancy depends on a range of lifestyle factors. However, how long you might live for is also determined by other variables.
For example, deprivation, linked to education and employment, limits access to the resources and services you need for maintaining your health. Your disposable income and the area in which you live has a major bearing on you they live their life and your resultant exposure to health risks.
Boys born in England’s wealthiest areas can expect 19 extra healthy years compared with boys in the country’s poorest areas. For girls, this stretches to 20 years.
Is life expectancy falling in the UK?
Over the last 150 years, the UK saw significant increases in life expectancy, influenced by better incomes and living conditions, changing habits and medical advances.
However, while mortality rates continued to improve during the 2000s, since 2011 they have stalled. Research by the London School of Economics (LSE) has found that while people in wealthier areas of the country continue to live longer, life expectancy is stalling – or even reversing – for those living in the most deprived areas.
The analysis of mortality data shows that the UK is failing to reduce avoidable deaths such as:
- Accidental poisoning
- Alcohol consumption
While life expectancy for the under-50s continues to rise in European countries such as France and the Netherlands, the UK is falling behind. The research shows that ‘avoidable deaths’ are now the leading causes of death among UK adults aged between 20 and 49.
The Health Foundation, which commissioned the report, warned that this indicated Britain was following “worrying” trends seen in the US, where there has been a spike in alcohol and drug-related deaths among young people.
In Scotland, drug-related death rates now exceed those of the US, with 218 deaths per million population.
The Health Foundation said the research highlighted the need for more focus on different factors influencing life expectancy, not just in terms of the NHS and healthcare, but also wider social determinants such as employment, housing and education.
Veena Raleigh, senior fellow at the King’s Fund, says that UK spending on health and social care per head was lower than in many comparable European countries, and said it needed to be put on a "more realistic footing".
“We need a better understanding of the complex causes of stalling life expectancy, including of any commonalities with Europe, but today’s reports add to a body of evidence which shows that action needs to be taken now," she added.
Making sure you have the right protection in place
As we have seen a range of factors including your lifestyle, diet and exercise determine your life expectancy, as well as factors such as where you live.
It’s perhaps not a surprise that these are the factors that an insurer will consider when pricing your life insurance.
Having life insurance in place ensures that your family are protection if the worst happens to you. You have the peace of mind that there will be financial support available, meaning they have one less thing to worry about at an already stressful time.
As life insurance experts, we work with some of the UK’s leading insurers to make sure you get the protection you need at the right price. Even if you smoke, have experienced previous medical issues, or engage on risky work or pastimes, we can help you access the life insurance you and your family need.
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