Tackling grim health projections

Health projections

More than nine million people in England will be living with major illness by 2040, according to the Health Foundation. That is nearly one in five of the population. As we have said before, the evidence is stacking up that we are in effect sleepwalking towards a massive future public health crisis. And as the Health Foundation reminds us, countries across the world face the same pressures. But as a new US study suggests, all is not lost: simple lifestyle changes, even in middle age, can add decades to your life. We must support people to eat and live healthily and we must think long term. Schools have a key role to play by developing healthy habits and a healthy mindset in children and young people that they will carry with them into adult life.

The health projections were published in a new report from the Health Foundation called Health in 2040: Projected patterns of illness in England. Its headline figure of 9.1 million people is an increase of 2.5 million people compared with the latest data from 2019 (a rate of increase that is nine times faster than the rate at which the working-age population is expected to grow – 37% as against 4%).

The analysis indicates that there will be millions of new cases of several highly prevalent or high-need conditions. Most of the projected increase in major illness – 80% or two million people – will affect those aged 70 and over as the so-called baby boomers reach old age and life expectancy increases.

Much of the projected growth in demand is for conditions such as anxiety or depression, chronic pain and diabetes, which – the report points out – are predominantly managed outside hospitals in primary care and the community, suggesting the need for investment focusing on prevention and early intervention to reduce the impact of illness and improve the quality of people’s lives.

It also projects that improvements in some of the main causes of poor health, such as fewer people smoking and lower cholesterol rates, will be offset by the impact of obesity as many people who have been obese for long periods of their lives reach old age.

Meanwhile, research presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition in Boston suggested that making eight lifestyle changes in middle age can add years to your life. The researchers used data from more than 700,000 US army veterans.

Their eight lifestyle recommendations are:

  • Eat well
  • Avoid cigarettes
  • Get a good night’s sleep
  • Be physically active
  • Manage stress
  • Avoid binge drinking
  • Be free from opioid addiction
  • Have positive social relationships

Life-Based Learning

There is a glimmer of hope in the Health Foundation’s grim projections. It can be summed up in one word: education. We need to shift to a more prevention-first approach, helping people to live healthier lifestyles before their health declines. Education has a massive role to play in achieving that goal.

As we argue in blogs such as A prevention-first approach to health, we need to prioritise children’s physical health to help tackle obesity and improve wellbeing more generally. It means teaching children healthy habits for live.

Life-Based Learning is predicated on the idea that we cannot simply carry on as we are. Unless we do more to ensure that individuals – including children and young people – adopt healthy lifestyle choices, we will continue to sleepwalk towards disaster.

Image at the head of this article by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay.

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