Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

How many, how old, how soon?

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: (Published 20 November 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:1350
  1. Kay-Tee Khaw, professor of clinical gerontology (
  1. Clinical Gerontology Unit, Box 251, University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine, Addenbrookes Hospital, Cambridge CB2 2QQ

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    These four articles are based on presentations to be given at a BMJ conference next Tuesday. “Medicine in an Ageing Society” will consider what demographic change means for medical practice, medical education, and medicine's institutions

    The changes in the age structure of human populations are unprecedented and continuing. They represent great successes and achievements in health and social development such that more people than ever before are likely to survive to old age. However, such changes also bring new demands, since most societal institutions evolved with different age structures in the population. These demands affect all aspects of society, including employment, taxation, pensions, education, and, not least, health. We need to develop and plan institutions and policies across the whole of society that are able to address the requirements of an ageing society. Appropriate planning requires some estimation of the future. Central is the question of what the numbers and proportions of people of different ages are likely to be, and over what period. In this article I present population projections for the United Kingdom and discuss some possible implications for health.

    Summary points

    The number of people aged 60 years and over in the United Kingdom is projected to increase from 12 million (20% of the population) in 2001 to 18.6 million in 2031 (30%)

    The numbers of people with various chronic diseases and disabilities are also projected to increase two to threefold

    Morbidity projections are highly sensitive to small changes in incidence and prevalence of disease

    Large secular trends in incidence and prevalence of many diseases indicate modifiable environmental determinants

    Identification of causes and prevention of the conditions leading to serious disability must be a high priority

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    I obtained age specific population projections to 2066 for the United Kingdom from the Office for National Statistics.1 The methods used for …

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