Preventable illnesses, including heart disease and stroke, are one of several factors behind the slowing improvements in life expectancy in England, according to Public Health England (PHE).
Between 2006 and 2011, life expectancy increased by 1.6 years in males and 1.3 years in females, but between 2011 and 2016 the increase was only 0.4 and 0.1 years for males and females respectively.
Currently, life expectancy in England has reached 79.6 years for men and 83.2 for women.
PHE said stubborn inequalities have widened in recent years – those in the poorest areas have seen less improvement in life expectancy than those in the wealthiest.
For women in the most deprived communities, life expectancy has actually decreased. In 2014 to 2016, the gap in life expectancy was 9.3 years for males and 7.3 years for females.
The review found that a slowdown in improvement in mortality from heart disease and stroke – two leading causes of death – has had a significant impact on these trends.
“With 80% of premature heart attacks and strokes potentially avoidable, this underscores the importance of tackling risk factors such as smoking, obesity, high blood pressure and other drivers of inequalities,” PHE said.
Mortality rates from dementia have increased, but this is largely due to changes in diagnostic and recording practices. Dementia is already the leading cause of death in women and is likely to become the leading cause of death in men too, overtaking heart disease.
The review concluded that a number of other factors have also potentially contributed to the slowdown in life expectancy, including flu and drug misuse.
A similar slowdown in improvement has been seen in other large European countries; however the report found the UK continues to lag behind other European countries on life expectancy, particularly for women.
Professor John Newton, director of health improvement at PHE, warned that with the number of people aged 85 years and over set to increase, we are likely to see the burden of dementia and many other long term conditions follow suit.
“The solution to reversing these trends will be complex as the causes themselves are not straight forward. What comes out loud and clear from the evidence is the potential for effective prevention activity, particularly for heart disease, to improve health outcomes and reduce the enormous disparities in life expectancy,” he said.