Most people are now living much longer – but will you be one of them?

There are new worrying figures that expose England’s north-south health divide and they also show that it is getting worse. So who in England lives longest and where are they? More importantly perhaps – Why?

The life expectancy for people living in England has risen by 5.4 years since 1990, with the average person now expected to live until more than 80 years of age. But some areas do far better than others.

Map - Regions

A study carried out by Public Health England (PHE) found life expectancy rose from 75.9 years to 81.3 years between 1990 and 2013. The gains were greater for men than women, with men expected to live an extra 6.4 years compared to 25 years ago but women still generally live longer, with the figures showing an average life expectancy for women of 83.2 years compared to 79.5 years for men.

There are still vast inequalities between rich and poor areas. While the wealthiest 20 %of men in the East of England can expect to live to 83.1 years, and women 86.4, the most deprived 20 %of men in the North West have an average life expectancy of just 74.9, with women at 79.5 years.

The increase has been ascribed to a slowdown in the number of deaths from cardiovascular disease, stroke and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease over the last two decades, but while life expectancy has grown for the general population, large inequalities still remain for people living in more deprived areas.

The study found that despite having the same health and social care system as the rest of the country, regions such as the North East and North West are ranked among the worst performing regions for life expectancy.

The study, which was published in The Lancet, shows that obesity, poor diet and smoking are the biggest risks for premature death among people in England. If you snore – it could be a sign of things to come unless you change things and do something about it quickly.

Public Health England spokesman, Professor John Newton described the wide-ranging causes of inequality as “deep-rooted and persistent and lie largely outside the he healthcare system”. “Preventatives services which already exist do help,” he added.

The new figures, published in The Lancet, show that if the healthiest region of England, the south-east, were a country it would top a league of 22 industrialised nations for its health outcomes. But if the North West were a country, it would be in the bottom five.

Although the study only looked at England, older data for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also places them among the worst performing countries. England has achieved significant gains in life expectancy, which has increased by 5.4 years between 1990 and 2013 – mostly driven by declines in deaths from heart disease and some cancers. The gains made by the country as a whole are greater than for most other wealthy countries.

But while we are living longer, there has been barely any decline in rates of illness and disability. The highest rates of the biggest killers – including heart disease and lung cancer – are found in the most deprived areas – driven by higher rates of common risk factors such as smoking and unhealthy drinking.

Across the board, the researchers estimate, 40 per cent of ill health in England is caused by preventable risk factors. Unhealthy diets and obesity are the biggest causes of illness – accounting for about a fifth. Smoking causes 10.8 per cent of disease, high blood pressure 7.8 per cent and alcohol and drug use 5.8 per cent.

If you snore you need to take the first step and prevent these illnesses from developing – or suffer the inevitable consequences.

John Redfern