It has just been announced that life expectancy among women living in the poorest communities in England has declined since 2011 with growing health inequalities playing a major part.
Overall, life expectancy growth has stalled over the past decade. This is the first time in 100 years.
This is a wakeup call with largest decreases in life expectancy seen in the most deprived areas of north-east England, while the biggest increases were in the richest parts of London.
The report, by Prof Sir Michael Marmot, one of the country’s leading experts on health inequalities, comes 10 years after he first published data on the growing gap between rich and poor, and between north and south, in England.
“England has lost a decade,” Prof Marmot said, calling the damage to the nation’s health shocking. He also said that if health has stopped improving, that means society has stopped improving.
Prof Marmot said the slowdown in life expectancy is more obvious in England than in most European and other high-income countries.
Italy, the UK and the US have experienced the biggest decline in living standards over the last 20 years and coincidentally those three countries have also experienced a decline in life expectancy.
Now apart from falling incomes we must consider what people are eating. Over a lifetime we eat about 60 tonnes of food which is the weight of a blue whale, the largest animal ever known to have lived.
Today in the UK the average amount of income spent on household food and drink is just over 10 per cent of total income but for the lower income households it is 20pc. About 100 years ago, it was half of total income.
Historically people ate unhealthily out of economic necessity and today unhealthy eating is a lifestyle choice.
Obesity is now in many countries an epidemic and in the UK 28pc of adults are recognised as clinically obese. Historically people suffered from hunger but today it is obesity.
Fuelling our obesity epidemic is our love of fast food and highly processed foods.
It has taken us a very long time to realise that the things we eat are not just making us unhealthy but also killing us. One of the key culprits when it comes to dietary concerns in sugar.
High consumption of sugar is linked to terrible diseases most notably diabetes. The World Health Organisation recommends a maximum of five teaspoons of sugar a day.
Older and more educated people do not consume the same amount of sugar as the younger generations. In America today they consume on average around 22 teaspoons of sugar but young men consume 40 teaspoons.
Young people in the US consume 500 calories or more a day from soft drinks which as we know contains lots of sugar.
Don’t forget processed foods. Almost 80pc of processed foods contain sugar. A favourite of the young is Heinz ketchup which is almost a quarter sugar and has more sugar per unit of volume than Coca Cola.
Adding to the problem is the fact that modern fruit and vegetables are not as nutritious as they once were. Overall fruit today contains about 50pc less iron, 12pc less calcium and 15pc less vitamin A than they did in the early 1950s when I was a boy.
Unfortunately, the most developed countries in the world today are the world’s most overfed but also the most nutritionally deficient.
Gordon is the former president and chief executive of BMMI. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org