UK Life Expectancy Improvements Show Signs of Stalling

Peter Russell

August 07, 2018

The UK has experienced one of the largest slowdowns to improvements in life expectancy among 20 developed nations, new figures have shown.

Until 2011, life expectancy in the UK had been increasing for decades, in common with several other countries, but these improvements faded during the second decade of the 21st century for both males and females, an analysis by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed.

Between 2011 and 2016, out of 15 other European countries, as well as the US, Canada, Australia, and Japan, the UK experienced one of the largest slowdowns in improvements in life expectancy at birth and at age 65 years for both males and females.

"Our analysis shows that life expectancy improvements in the UK have slowed considerably across most age groups, and this is seen in the majority of the countries studied", ONS statistician Sophie Sanders told Medscape News UK. "But even in those countries where they're also experiencing a slowdown, it does appear to be most pronounced in the UK as well as the US."

Life Expectancy Changes for Men and Women

Overall, the slowdown in life expectancy improvements was more pronounced for females than for males.

Increases in life expectancy for UK women were the lowest among all 20 nations, dropping from 12.9 weeks per year between 2005 and 2010 to 1.2 weeks per year from 2011 to 2015.

The UK ranked second from bottom, above the US, for increases in male life expectancy where the figures showed a decrease from 17.3 weeks per year between 2005 and 2010 to 4.2 weeks per year from 2011 to 2015.

The slowdown in improvements in mortality was generally seen among those aged 65 to 79 in most countries, with females more affected overall by the slowdown than males.

Japan headed the table for improvements in both male and female life expectancy improvements, but this should be seen against a background of poorer historic improvements in previous years, statisticians pointed out.
 

Life Expectancy Across the UK

Mortality rates have generally continued to improve for those aged 55 to 89 years in the UK, a separate ONS report showed, although the rate of improvement had slowed.

"All four of the UK countries have seen a slowdown and this is across almost all age groups in all countries except for the very youngest ages," said Sophie Sanders. "For females, mortality has actually worsened for Wales in the last 5 years. In Northern Ireland there's been no improvement, and then in England and Scotland improvements have actually continued, although at a slower rate."

Death rates for those aged 90 years and over in the UK have shown no improvement since 2011, the report showed, while the situation had worsened since 2012 among those aged 15 to 54. That contrasted with children between birth and 14 years where improvements in death rates continued, the analysis showed.
 

Dementia and Circulatory Diseases

Statisticians said the rise in death rates for people aged 90 and over reflected increases in mortality rates for mental and behavioural disorders, such as dementia.

A slowdown in the decline in death rates for circulatory diseases from 2011 had been a major factor driving the slowdown in life expectancy improvements for those aged 55 and over, they said.

Commenting on the findings, Dr David Reynolds, chief scientific officer at Alzheimer's Research UK, said: "Dementia is the leading cause of death across the UK and we've continued to see the number of people dying from the condition rise in recent years. The slowing in life expectancy gains reflects this trend and emphasises the need for research into finding a way to prevent, slow down or cure the diseases that cause dementia. 
 
"Official statistics show that while deaths from Alzheimer's and other dementias continue to rise, deaths from diseases such as cancer, circulatory and respiratory diseases have generally decreased during the last 2 decades. This is largely a result of advances in research that have produced more effective treatments and improved understanding of how to reduce the risk of these conditions, whereas support for dementia research has lagged behind other serious health conditions."

Prof Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: "These figures confirm that death rates from heart and circulatory diseases are falling, but the progress we've made is now at risk of stalling. We must not get complacent. The need to fund research into the prevention, treatment and cures for heart and circulatory diseases is now more urgent than ever.
 
"The rate of decline of deaths from heart and circulatory diseases above the age of 75 is slowing, at least in part, due to more people surviving a heart attack. However, the likelihood of dying later in life from subsequent heart failure has increased."

 

ONS: Changing trends in mortality: an international comparison: 2000 to 2016. Report.

ONS: Changing trends in mortality: a cross-UK comparison, 1981 to 2016. Report.

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