Why Are We So Unhealthy?
28th November 2012
There are many ways to measure the health of the nation.
The publication of the government’s consultation on a minimum price for alcohol puts the focus on harmful drinking habits.
Physical activity is also in the spotlight because of the call by health experts for people to cycle and walk more.
But to get the most comprehensive picture it is perhaps best to look at all the lifestyle factors together.
There are seven established factors that raise the risk of ill-health and these are all measured by the Health Survey for England.
They are: smoking, binge drinking, low fruit and vegetable consumption, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and raised cholesterol (a lack of physical activity is a factor in the last three).
In England, an incredible 93% have at least one risk factor. Over a third have three or more.
That makes depressing reading and raises the question about why we are not doing more to look after ourselves.
People in England – and across the rest of the UK for that matter – have some of the worst lifestyles in Europe, particularly in terms of drinking habits and obesity levels.
There are a host of reasons and explanations put forward by experts.
Talking about the low cycling and walking rates, Dr Harry Rutter, of the National Obesity Observatory, laments the “congestion and pollution” in our built-up areas.
Many would agree with such sentiments, arguing the amount of traffic is also a major factor in why both children and adults are getting less active.
Dr Rutter wants to see councils, which get responsibility for public health next year, take a lead in creating environments that encourage healthier lifestyles, arguing they have a huge influence through their control of planning, housing transport, schools and leisure.
And certainly there is some good international evidence that action at a local level can make a difference.
Some of the countries with populations that pursue the most healthy lifestyles have strong and proactive local government, particularly those in Scandinavia.
- Just over a fifth of adults smoke with rates twice as high in poorer communities.
- A quarter of adults are obese, while another third are overweight.
- Only a quarter of adults eat the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables each day.
- Nearly a third of people have high blood pressure.
- Those drinking above the recommended levels stand at 35% for men and 28% for women.
- Two thirds do not do enough physical activity, raising the risk of problems such as raised cholesterol and high blood pressure.