October 25, 2021

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Women’s healthy life expectancy drops by five months, but men see no change

Women’s healthy life expectancy (HLE) has fallen by five months while the rate for men has stayed the same, Government figures show. 

On Monday, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published data analysing life expectancy for men and women from 2017 to 2019.  It showed that female HLE was almost five months shorter between 2017 to 2019 than in 2014 to 2016, and at its lowest since the time series began in 2009 to 2011. 

Between 2009 and 2011, there was a difference of 1.1 years between male and female HLE at birth. Since then, female HLE has declined, while male HLE remains higher in 2017 to 2019 than it was in 2009 to 2011. This means the gap between males and females has narrowed to 0.4 years 

The figures build on the long-reported trend of declining HLE among women, and an ONS spokesman said: “It’s possible greater awareness and willingness to be open about mental health conditions may be a factor, but this is not something that has been tested and needs further research.” 

In November 2008, Professor Sir Michael Marmot was asked by the then Health Secretary to chair an independent review to propose the most effective evidence-based strategies for reducing health inequalities in England from 2010. 

A decade later, he updated his findings in the report “The Marmot Review 10 Years On” and reiterated the inequalities in life expectancy between men and women, writing: “For many groups in England, health and life expectancy are deteriorating, and there are clear systematic inequalities in the groups for whom this is happening.

“Broadly speaking, poorer communities, women and those living in the North have experienced little or no improvement since 2010.

“While at this stage it is impossible to establish precisely why life expectancy has stalled and why health inequalities in England are widening, we can establish that a change in winter-associated mortality and ill health is not the main factor. 

“We can also establish that the health situation is somewhat similar to other countries that have experienced political, social and economic disruption and widening social and economic inequalities. In some of the key social determinants, inequalities are widening in England and the protective role of the state in supporting people is being reduced and realigned away from more deprived areas and communities.”

The ONS researchers also found that, between 2017 and 2019, the HLE at birth in the UK for males was 62.9 years, showing no significant change since 2014 to 2016. However, the HLE for females showed “a significant decrease” from 63.7 years in 2014 to 2016 to 63.3 years in 2017 to 2019.

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