50+ health * Healthy living

20% higher chance of early death in the north of England

20% higher chance of early death in the north of England North-south health divide widest for 40 years

Over the last 40 years the chances of someone dying early are a fifth higher in the north of England than the south - despite government attempts to address this so-called 'health divide'.

Researchers from the University of Manchester and Manchester City Council analysed death rates between 1965 and 2008, and compared their findings for the five northernmost English regions with the four southernmost.

Overall premature death rates (defined as dying before the age of 75) have been 14 per cent higher in the north during this period, with the rate slightly higher in men (15%) than women (13%).

Although there was a narrowing of the gap in the 1980s and 90s, over the last 10 years there has been a steep rise in the gap, despite it being part of government health policy to reduce health inequalities over this period.

The gap was even more pronounced in younger people, with the 20 to 34 age group in the north seeing a 22 per cent rise in excess deaths from 1996 to 2008.

The good news is that in general mortality rates have been dropping in the UK as a whole, by about 50 per cent in men and 40 per cent in women, with similar reductions in the north and the south.

Study authors Professor Iain Buchan of the University of Manchester and John Hacking of the city council called for more investigation into this health divide: "More research is needed into: why policies to reduce such inequalities have failed; how the wider determinants of health may be unbalanced between north and south; and what role selective migration plays."

Other health experts warned that the situation was only going to get worse, with claims that the planned government cuts will affect the north disproportionately, adding to the effects of the recession on the health of the region.

The results of the study are published on the web site of the British Medical Journal.

This article was published on Wed 16 February 2011

Image © Dmitry Nikolaev - Fotolia.com

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