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Poorest women in England have same ill health at 60 as richest at 76

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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.

The Health Foundation found a similarly stark, though less wide, gap in men’s health. 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 thinktank’s analysis of NHS data also shows that 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.

The findings underline Britain’s wide and entrenched socio-economic inequalities in health, which the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted. Ministers have promised to make tackling them a priority as part of the commitment to levelling up, but a promised white paper on that has been delayed.

Researchers led by Toby Watt said their findings were likely to be the most accurate published so far because they were based on data detailing patients’ interactions with primary care and hospital services, and unlike previous studies did not rely on people’s self-reported health.

“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,” Watt said.

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Source: The Guardian, 17 August 2022

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