A 60-year-old woman in England’s poorest areas typically has the same level of illness as a woman 16 years older in the richest areas, a study into health inequalities has found.
Women in England’s poorest places are diagnosed with a long-term illness at the age of 40 on average, whereas that does not happen to those in the most prosperous places until 48.
Impoverished women spend 43.6 years, or 52% of their lifespan, beset by diagnosed illness, while for their best-off peers it is 41 years, or 46% of their life cycle.
In addition, women from the most deprived backgrounds die on average at 83.6 years old, more than five years sooner than the 88.8-year life expectancy of well-off women.
“In human terms, these stark disparities show that at the age of 40, the average woman living in the poorest areas in England is already being treated for her first long-term illness. This condition means discomfort, a worse quality of life and additional visits to the GP, medication or hospital, depending on what it is. At the other end of the spectrum, the average 40-year-old woman will live a further eight years – about 10% of her life – without diminished quality of life through illness,” Researcher Toby Watt said. “Throughout the rest of her life the impoverished 40-year-old is more likely to have breathing difficulties from chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, experience alcohol problems, chronic pain, anxiety, depression, and suffer a heart attack or stroke at younger ages. If she makes it to 80, which is less likely, she will still be receiving treatment for and living with more severe illness than her wealthier counterparts.”
At 60 a man living in the most deprived 10% of the country typically has the burden of ill-health experienced by a counterpart in the wealthiest 10% at the age of 70.
The poorest men are expected to spend 42.7 years free of disease, whereas it is much longer among the best-off 10% of the population – 49.2 years. And their life expectancy is 78.3 years, compared with 87.1 for the richest.
He and his team found that inequalities in the burden of disease start in childhood and persist and change in nature through adulthood into older age. However, they are largely explicable over the life cycle by just a handful of illnesses: chronic pain, diabetes, severe breathing problems, anxiety, depression, strokes, heart attacks and drink-related problems.