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Wealthier people live around nine years longer without debilitating health issues than poorer people

The i logo The i 15/01/2020
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Wealthier people can live up to nine 'healthy' years longer than their less wealthy counterparts, a 10-year investigation has found.

Better off people in the UK and the US aged 50 and over can expect to live on average eight to nine years longer without disabilities that prevent them from cooking or getting in and out of bed, according to research carried out by universities including UCL and Harvard, leading campaigners to urge the government to address health inequalities.

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Since 2002, the group of academics have analysed the data of thousands of people, who they followed for a period of 10 years until 2013.

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The 'healthy' years gap

The study took sample groups from the UK and the US, analysing data from 10,754 and 14,803 adults aged 50 and over. The countries were selected because of their radically differing healthcare systems.

These participants were then divided into three separate groups according how wealthy they were, basing the total on their household wealth, their net financial wealth and their net housing wealth minus all debts taken into account. The poorest and the wealthiest groups were then compared over the decade-long project to track how many 'healthy' years each participant experienced.

The wealthiest men in England and the US lived around an additional 31 ‘healthy’ years compared to around 22-23 years for those in the poorest wealth groups (Photo: Pixabay)

While at age 50 the wealthiest men lived around an additional 31 "healthy" years compared to around 22 years for those in the poorest wealth groups, women from the wealthiest groups from the lived around an additional 33 ‘healthy’ years compared to 24.6 and 24 years from the poorest wealth groups in England and the US respectively.

Dr Paola Zaninotto (UCL Epidemiology and Health Care), lead author of the project, said it provides key information on the quality of an older person's life, rather than focusing on their life expectancy.

Dr Zaninotto said: “While life expectancy is a useful indicator of health, the quality of life as we get older is also crucial. By measuring healthy life expectancy we can get an estimate of the number of years of life spent in favourable states of health or without disability.

“Our study makes a unique contribution to understanding the levels of inequalities in health expectancies between England and the US where healthcare systems are very different.”

Reduce health inequality

The academics say that the evidence points to the government needing to make greater efforts to reduce health inequalities.

While the study may focus on the plight of older people, health inequality is known to effect people from all age ranges.

Health inequalities, as defined by the NHS, are unfair and unjust differences in health status between groups, with people accessing disparate care depending on what area they live in, their ethnicity, or as the study has shown, to how much they earn.

Health inequality affects people because of their wealth, the area they decide to live in, or what ethnicity they are (Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Currently, in England, people living in the least deprived areas of the country live around 20 years longer in good health than people in the most deprived areas, according to Public Health England.

Dr Zaninotto said: “We know that improving both the quality and the quantity of years that individuals are expected to live has implications for public expenditure on health, income, long-term care of older people and work participation and our results suggest that policy makers in both England and the US must make greater efforts into reducing health inequalities.”

i has contacted the Department for Health for comment.

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