Improving midlife health requires us to start early

A study involving people whose health has been tracked over five decades indicates that about one in three middle-aged people have multiple chronic health issues such as recurrent back pain, mental health problems and high blood pressure. The research shows the long-lasting links between childhood and adolescence and midlife health, and the researchers have recommended action on health targeted at children and young people in order to improve the long-term health prospects for future generations. Such thinking resonates with the aims of Life-Based Learning — an approach to education for pre-teenage children in which the life challenges that we all face, now and in the future, become the focus of a fully rounded life-based curriculum.

The study, conducted by researchers at University College London, is based on data from a representative group of about 8,000 people who have been participating in the British Cohort Study, which has been periodically tracking their lives since 1970.

Key health problems were:

  • high-risk drinking (26%)
  • recurrent back issues (21%)
  • mental health problems (19%)
  • high blood pressure (16%)
  • asthma or bronchitis (12%)
  • arthritis (8%)
  • diabetes (5%)

You can read more about the research by clicking here.

A substantial proportion of the population are already suffering from multiple long-term physical and mental-health problems in their late 40s. It is not a good prospect for an ageing population that you can expect to live longer but many in poor health.

Dr Dawid Gondek, lead researcher, quoted on the BBC website

Not surprisingly, the study found that diabetes and high blood pressure were both more common among those who were obese, and that those from poorer backgrounds or who experienced mental ill health in their youth were also more likely to have poor health.

We found that adults from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, those who had been overweight or obese as children and those who had experienced mental ill-health as teenagers were all at increased risk of poor health later on.

Professor George Ploubidis, UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies

Our recent blog Dimbleby Report recommends whole-school approach to food education highlighted some of the evidence cited in the 2021 National Food Strategy, which calls for an urgent overhaul of the whole way we think about food:

  • four of the top five risk factors for early death and ill-health are related to diet
  • the UK has one of the highest rates of obesity in Europe, higher than Germany, Spain, France and Italy
  • high body mass index (BMI) and poor diets account for many more deaths than alcohol and drug abuse

Life-Based Learning (LBL) recognises the importance of sport, physical activity and outdoor play in helping children to grow up physically and mentally healthy. The Body is one of nine learning themes that make up LBL. Its approach to health and wellbeing combines a focus on children learning how to look after themselves with a coordinated whole-school focus on physical activity. A central feature of a life-based Body learning programme is a guaranteed 60 minutes of daily exercise for every child. It also involves learning about nutrition and healthy eating, such as the basics of how to cook healthy meals.

Read More About Physical Health

Image at the head of this article by emailme3 from Pixabay.

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