Good news for little boys

stick_figure_hitting_beach_ball_1600_wht_8083If you are bright and have a professional career such as a doctor or lawyer you will outlive average women for the first time according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

Boys born between 2007 and 2011 can expect to live to just over 82 years of age, just a little bit longer than average girls. However girls also in the professions can still expect to live three years longer to 85 years of age.

Men have been closing the life expectancy gap steadily over the last 30 years to an average age of 79 (compared to an average women’s life expectancy of 82 years) although the poorest men will only live until 74 (compared to the poorest women at 78).

Women, even if from the lowest socio-economic groups, have always lived longer than well-off men  but that has changed. Why?

The decline of the mining industry and the move from physical labour in manufacturing to service industries have reduced deaths from accidents and industrial disease and the reduction in smoking (more men smoke than women and were heavier smokers) has also contributed together with improvements in health care.

However, despite being an advanced economy – the fifth largest in the world – the poorest people in the UK still live shorter lives by several years than their wealthier counterparts.


British women die younger

doctor_shows_the_way_to_a_woman_1600_wht_8489compared to women in almost every other country in Western Europe.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is urging governments to introduce sugar taxes and raise the price of alcohol as it believes Europeans are the “world champions” of unhealthy living.

British women have the second lowest life expectancy of the 15 western EU countries. 

From the age of 30 to 74 British women have higher death rates than the european average. We have not reduced our alcohol consumption as much as other countries and 63% of UK adults are overweight compared to a european average of 57%.

A baby girl can expect to live to 82.7 in this country with only Denmark worse at 82.1. Spanish women have the longest life expectancy at 85.5 years. But overeating and drinking risk children living shorter lives than their parents.

“there are so many factors, lifestyle but also access to healthcare, early screening and detection of disease, prevention of disease” that could explain the gap said a WHO spokesperson.

Europe as a whole drinks and smokes more than any other part of the world and only America is fatter. (Although England is slightly better than its european neighbours in that regard)

And within England there are variations of up to seven years in women’s life expectancy. “Healthy behaviours, whatever your age, and effective care and support can help people have longer, healthier lives than ever before. There’s only so much medical technology can do“.

Tougher action is needed on the price of cigarettes, alcohol, and unhealthy foods but the government has so far rejected calls for this from health leaders.

Best place in UK to retire?

According to the Pensioners’ Wellbeing Index, which looks at factors such as life expectancy, crime, and healthcare, the Southwest is the place to spend your retirement.

Devon comes top of 20 counties in England and Wales ranked the “safest and nicest” for retirement.

In fact the South West has several placings in the list which is:

1   Devon

2   Dorset

 =3 Powys

=3 Norfolk

5  East Sussex

6  Surrey

7  Gloucestershire

8  West Sussex

9  Suffolk

10 North Yorkshire

There is only one place in the North of England to make the list and that’s in Yorkshire!

So why Devon? It’s mainly rural so less crime. It has an above-average number of health-care workers and men live 19 years longer than average and women 22 years (although Dorset actually has the longest life expectancy).

Christchurch in Dorset also has more pensioners than anywhere else in Britain.

Waistline should be half your height

apple_measure_tape_1600_wht_13129There is now further evidence on this from research carried out by Cass Business School at the University of London. It claims to be the first study to analyse official health records to measure the impact on life expectancy on obesity as measured by the ratio between your waist and height.

This is clearly not true as I posted about this in May 2013 describing research at Oxford Brookes University which also looked at the Health & Lifestyle survey, which goes back to 1984, and the Health Survey for England which studies 8,000 people every year.

Leaving these academic institutions to fight it out the results from both studies have the same message: your waistline – as measured at the narrowest point without breathing in – should be half your height or less. So a person who is 5′ 10″ should have a waist of no more than 35″, and a person who is 5′ 4′  have  a waist of no more than 32″.

If a man expands his waistline to 60% of his height he loses 1.7 years of life and a woman doing the same 1.4 years.

Dr Margaret Ashwell, a co-author of the study, said the rule applied regardless of a person’s age or ethnicity. Dr Ashwell first popularised the discovery that apple-shaped obesity is more dangerous than pear-shaped obesity in 1996 (see post: “What fruit is your bum“) because of the amount of central fat in the body which affects vital organs causing heart problems and diabetes unlike fat on thighs and hips.

She said people who rely on their body-mass index (BMI) live on false hope. Using the waist;height ratio puts 69% of the population at risk compared to 56% if you use BMI.

But whether adopting this as the preferred measure will make any difference is anybody’s guess. GPs, who recently attacked childhood obesity welcomed the findings but thought it was unclear whether “worrying people about their weight actually motivates them to make a long-term commitment to lifestyle changes”.

Simple tests to predict your life expectancy

elderly_man_holding_a_custom_text_sign_12871With the government planning to tell future pensioners how long they are likely to live so they can better plan their finances this new research might be useful.

Research at University College London, and published in the BMJ, found that people in their early 50s who scored poorly on three simple tests of strength and co-ordination were nearly four times as likely to die in the next decade as those who did well.

The three tests were:

  • grip strength
  • chair rise speed
  • standing balance time

You can do two of these tests at home.

The chair rise test is: see how quickly you can get up and down from a chair 10 times. 16.5 seconds puts you in top fifth and 26.5 seconds in the bottom fifth.

The balance test is to see how long you can stand on one leg with your eyes closed. More than 10 seconds puts you in top fifth and less than 2 seconds in bottom fifth.

The research was carried out using a cohort of people born in 1946 who had had their health monitored all their lives. They were tested at age 53. In the following 13 years there were 177 deaths in the group (of around 2,800), half from cancer and a quarter to coronary heart disease (CHD).

Those who had performed poorly on the tests were more likely to have died regardless of other factors such as wealth or exercise.

The few who couldn’t do any of the tests were 12 times more likely to have died than all those who performed the tasks. Those in the bottom 20% of scores on these tests were almost 4 times more likely to have died than the others.

Fitness levels drop off from age 45 on average but there are wide variations. Separate research, also published in the BMJ, found that walking or taking similar light exercise for an hour a day could stave off the onset of osteoarthritis.

In the UK the NHS has been accused of ageism in its reluctance to offer surgery to older patients. Now scientists at Seoul University in South Korea have developed a test to predict whether or not a patient will survive an operation to stop doctors using age alone to decide whether they can cope with treatment.

They found that patients with a high frailty score were more likely to die within a year of having an operation.

They assessed patients over 65 on their ability to walk, dress, wash and carry out other tasks as well as their performance on memory tests, their nutrition and the number of drugs they were taking. In the following year 9% of these patients died, 10% experienced complications, and 9% had to go into a nursing home. These were all patients who had scored highest on the frailty assessment.

The researchers found that post-operative one-year all-cause mortality rate, length of hospital stay, and discharge to a nursing facility, could all be predicted from their assessments.

Finally back to the grip test referred to above. Researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems in Austria have found that the strength of a handshake is a good way to assess how fast people are ageing. Using grip strength as a marker of biological age people who did poorly at school age about 4 years faster than those who did well.

Reviewing 5o studies on grip strength they found that weakness in the hands is linked to high levels of disease and early death.

If you’re younger and relying on the body mass index (BMI) remember it’s no longer considered reliable.

Long life the Japanese way

grandma_cane_fencing_500_wht_192Japanese women live longer than any other women – an average of 86.4 years compared to an average of 82.7 for British women and 84.4 for Italian women.

Experts think British women could catch up if the adopted the same lifestyle.

That would involve eating less (Japanese women consume 25% fewer calories) and cutting out bread and dairy but drinking green tea and raw fish.

The Japanese diet typically consists of fish three times a week with grains and vegetables, tofu and seaweed.

They also eat octopus and squid which are rich in taurine which reduces cholesterol and blood pressure.

Food is eaten in small amounts on small plates – something we know psychologically helps you to eat less. Short chopsticks are used which forces you to eat more slowly and helsp reduce the volume eaten.

Japanese men don’t do quite as well however with a life expectancy of 79.9 years behind Iceland, Sweden and Switzerland. British men are expected to live until 78.9 just behind the longest living in Iceland who live to 80.8 years.



UK is not a good place to live

but it’s better than living in Spain which came lowest of all the developed nations studied by PwC and the Demos think tank.

Norway, Germany, and the Netherlands are the top three places to live and work among leading OECD countries that were scored on a “Good Growth” Index which measures not just GDP but unemployment, health, work-life balance, and housing, among other factors.

So why did people in the UK rate their country so badly? They were unhappy with average working hours, income equality, and transport costs, among other things.

The authors of the report warn the government that the public takes a wide view of what constitutes economic success including creating employment and fairness.

Health was also an issue that concerned people and the report suggested that good health should also be part of the government’s economic policy.

Norway came top because of a low unemployment rate of 3.2% compared with 7.8% in the UK, fewer working hours and higher savings rates, three times higher than in the UK.

Norway also has more space, there are only 34 people per square mile compared with 660 in the UK. It’s murder rate, the recent massacre notwithstanding, is one of the lowest in the world, only half that of the UK and a tenth of that in the USA.

The male to female ratio is almost equal and there is a life expectancy of 82 years of age. And Norwegians are well-educated; 40% of the 25-34 age group have degrees which is well above the OECD average of 29%. Not surprising when they are the 18th highest spender in the world on education.

This is not the only attempt to measure national well-being and the OECD has a “Create you own better lifecalculator where you can work out which country you would prefer to live in. Australia came first in their own comparisons with a high proportion of Australians being satisfied with their lot