North-south divide in health persists in England

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 12 October 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:774
  1. Zosia Kmietowicz
  1. London

    People in the south of England continue to enjoy a healthier and longer life than those in the north, new government data show.

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    Although life expectancy has increased throughout England, figures from the Health Profile of England report show that women living in the north live on average one year less than women in the south. The life expectancy of men in northern England is two years less than that of men in the south of the country.

    Rates of smoking and obesity are highest in the northern parts of England. Boston, in Lincolnshire, has the highest prevalence of obesity of any town.

    The United Kingdom has the highest prevalence of obesity in Europe, says the report. The prevalence among adults is 23%. In August the Department of Health predicted that 13 million people in England would be obese by 2010 if no action were taken to curb the rise (BMJ 2006;333: 463, 2 Sep).

    The new report sets out the progress made by the government in improving public health since it published its white paper Choosing Health in 2004. The report says that 1.2 million people have stopped smoking since 1998.

    However, people living in Yorkshire and the Humber, the North West, and the North East have an above average likelihood of dying from a smoking related disease.

    In another report, Health Challenge England: Next Steps for Choosing Health, the government sets out the next stage of its programme for action.

    It says that campaigns to improve public health need to shift from a “one size fits all” approach to one that focuses on how people live their lives to help them change their behaviour.

    It gives the example of last year's campaign to help young people quit smoking, which highlighted how smoking can affect looks, sex appeal, and fertility.

    The public health minister, Caroline Flint, said: “Health Challenge England will push this new approach forward. It will put people in the driving seat to make the changes they need to lead healthier lives.

    “Our initial focus will be obese adults and children. The rapid increase in child and adult obesity over the past decade is storing up very serious health problems for the future.

    “Effective action on diet and exercise will help to tackle future heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and a range of factors critical to health like mental wellbeing.

    “We have learnt that often parents who are overweight or obese find it difficult to assess their children's weight status and appreciate the associated health risks for their children and themselves.

    “Parents are not always embracing healthy eating and active lifestyles as it is perceived to be too challenging. We want to support parents to make them feel more able to make the changes that are needed to make a big difference to their own—and their children's lives.”

    The government's new obesity social marketing strategy will be launched next year.


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