News Roundup [abridged Versions Appear In The Paper Journal]

New cases of asthma in children in England and Wales has fallen by two thirds

BMJ 2005; 330 doi: (Published 24 March 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:691
  1. Andrew Cole
  1. London

The number of new cases of asthma fell significantly in England and Wales between 1996 and 2003, with the number in children falling the most, the latest issue of Social Trends says.

Between 1996 and 2003 new episodes of asthma (the mean weekly incidence of a first or new attack) fell by 46% among men and boys and by 41% among women and girls. The biggest decline was among children aged under 5 years—a fall of nearly two thirds. New episodes halved among the 5 to 24 years age group. The issue does not indicate any possible reasons for this.

The 35th issue of the annual report also shows that although people in Britain are living longer, they experience poor health for longer. The proportion of people in Britain reporting longstanding illness rose from 24% in 1975 to 31% in 2003-4.

Unsurprisingly, the data show that long term conditions increase in prevalence with age. In 2003-4 10% of adults aged under 45 and more than 40% aged over 75 reported a longstanding illness that limited their activities. Muscoloskeletal problems and conditions of the heart and circulatory system were the most common causes.

The report shows that the obesity epidemic is gaining ground, with the proportion of adults in England who are clinically obese almost doubling: between 1993 and 2003 the percentage of men who were obese rose from 13% to 23% and the percentage of women rose from 16% to 23%. A further 44% of men and 33% of women were classed as overweight in 2003.

Rates of smoking in Britain continue to decline. The percentage of people smoking fell from 45% in 1974 to 26% in 2003-4. Smoking remains most common among manual workers (35% for men and 31% for women) and is lowest among people in managerial and professional jobs (20% for men and 17% for women). By contrast alcohol consumption in Britain is higher in managerial and professional households than in routine and manual ones. In 2003/4 76% of adults in affluent households and 59% in lower income households had had a drink in the previous week.

Social Trends also highlights a big decline in Britain in the number of home visits by GPs over the last 30 years and a rise in visits to the surgery and consultations over the phone. Last year home visits accounted for just 4% of all consultations, compared with 22% in 1971.

Other findings include:

the incidence of lung cancer in men in Britain fell by more than 40% over the past 20 years,

the number of deaths from cancers and respiratory and circulatory illnesses in the United Kingdom all fell, with the largest fall being in circulatory illnesses,

the suicide rate for men aged 25 to 44 in the United Kingdom doubled between 1971 and 1998 but fell from 27 per 100,000 to 23 per 100,000 in the last five years, and

the average length of stay of acute patients in NHS hospitals in the United Kingdom fell by nearly three and a half days between 1981 and 2002/3.

Social Trends 35 is at

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