Page last updated at 23:00 GMT, Thursday, 29 April 2010 00:00 UK

UK 'has higher early death rate than many rich nations'

By Nick Triggle
Health reporter, BBC News

A doctor holds the hand of a patient

People in the UK have a higher risk of early death than those in many other wealthy countries, a study shows.

While deaths before the age of 60 in the UK have nearly halved in the past 40 years, the rate for women remains similar to Slovenia's and Albania's.

Experts said the large inequality gap was to blame for the findings, which were reported in the Lancet journal.

Globally, men in Iceland and women in Cyprus had the lowest risk, the Washington University-led team found.

map of world showing the mortality rate of male persons in 2010 map of world showing the mortality rate of female persons in 2010

Researchers looked at data, including censuses, death registrations and surveys, to compile the estimated number of early deaths in 187 countries in 1970, 1990 and 2010.

Cyprus - 38 deaths per 1,000 before the age of 60
South Korea - 40
Japan, Italy and Greece - 41

During the period the overall risk fell by 34% in women and 19% in men, reflecting the progress in medicine and rising level of affluence.

South Asia saw the most rapid decline for women and Australasia for men.

Sub-Saharan Africa currently has some of the highest rates with half of people dying early, compared to one-in-20 in some developed countries.

Some parts of the continent even saw rates get worse, reflecting the spread of HIV in recent years, the report said.

Smoking and drinking

In the UK, 58 deaths per 1,000 among women were before the age of 60, while for men the figure stood at 93.

In western Europe only Danish and Belgian women had a higher risk than those in the UK.

British men fare a little better as the early death rate is mid-ranking for western Europe.

Professor Danny Dorling, an expert in health inequalities from Sheffield University, said the poor performance of the UK was down to health inequalities.

"We have some of the worst health outcomes in our poorest areas in the whole of Europe."

Iceland - 65 deaths per 1,000 before the age of 60
Sweden - 71
Malta and the Netherlands - 73

Professor Dorling even warned the fall in early deaths seen in recent decades could be reversed.

"It is unlikely, but not impossible. It hasn't happened since the 1930s, but it will really depend on how the future government makes the cuts."

Professor Alan Maryon Davis, president of the Faculty of Public Health, agreed health inequalities were playing a major role, pointing out the UK had relatively high rates of smoking and drinking.

He also urged health professionals to focus on prevention and early detection.

"We have a good health system and we are getting better, but as a nation - and men in particular - we do not seek help early enough. Early diagnosis is essential for diseases like cancer."

A Department of Health spokesperson said female life expectancy in the UK was at its highest ever level and that latest data showed female life expectancy at birth in the UK was two years greater than female life expectancy at birth in Albania.

The spokesperson said: "Factors underlying increases in life expectancy are complex.

"Male and female mortality rates from the major causes of death, for example, circulatory diseases and cancers, have been decreasing in England and greater declines in female mortality in recent years have narrowed the gap between England and other countries in the European Union."

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FROM OTHER NEWS SITES British Women 'More Likely To Die By 60' - 22 hrs ago
Telegraph Britain's unhealthy teen girls 'likely to die young' - 33 hrs ago
Reuters UK Iceland has longest-lived men, UK scores poorly - 34 hrs ago
Mail Online UK Women in Britain have worse death rate than Albania - 38 hrs ago
ITN Women's early death rate 'level in UK and Albania' - 39 hrs ago

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