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Life expectancy falls for women in disadvantaged areas

Published: 9 December 2022

The Coronavirus pandemic may have exacerbated an already worrying trend of a rising gap in life expectancy between the most and least deprived areas in Wales, with particularly stark trends for women, according to an article published in the Journal for Public Health. 

The Public Health Wales and Cardiff University paper details how the gap in life expectancy widened amongst both sexes in 2002–20. This was driven by greater decreases in life expectancy amongst the most deprived in Wales, with a steeper decline again for women in the most recent period of 2018-20.  

In this period, the gap in life expectancy for women in Wales rose from 4.7 years in 2002-04 to 6.3, while life expectancy for men in Wales rose from 6.4 years to 7.6 years for men. 

Ciarán Humphreys, Consultant in Public Health at Public Health Wales, said:  

“The lives of many living in our most disadvantaged communities are being cut short too early, and this is getting worse. This research points us to where we can make a difference. Healthcare has a role to play, and strengthening our public health efforts has the potential for even greater impact in addressing this gap. However, the greatest contribution to this gap in how long people live lives beyond these services and programmes, and relate to the basic building blocks for health, the conditions into which we are born, live, work and grow.  Without these building blocks - such as having enough money to buy the food we need, and warm safe homes, our mental and physical health suffers. 

“We believe that to address these unfair differences in loss of life, we need clinical, public health and cross-sectorial action on health inequalities, supported by a policy environment that prioritises health equity in all policies. As we face this cost of living crisis, we need to act together across these wider determinants that fundamentally shape our health and well-being.” 

Other key findings include: 

Over a year of the gap in life expectancy was due to deaths considered treatable by medical care for both men and women, largely due to circulatory, respiratory and cancer-related deaths. This gap changed little in the period 

A larger contribution was from death preventable by public health interventions, at about 2 years for women and 3.5 years for men, changing little in the period, including circulatory, respiratory, alcohol- and drug-related and cancer-related deaths.  

Jonny Currie, Honorary Clinical Lecturer, Division of Population Medicine,  Cardiff University, said: 

“The greatest rise in deaths however was from causes neither directly treatable by medical services nor preventable through public health programmes. This category saw an increase in contribution from 1.6 to 2.7 years for women between 2002-04 and 2018-20 and from 1.6 years to 2.4 years for males, partly driven by a rise in deaths in adults over 75 years but also from a myriad of causes not strictly defined as avoidable, despite a clear socioeconomic gradient in such deaths.” 

Contribution of avoidable mortality to life expectancy inequalities in Wales: a decomposition by age and by cause between 2002 and 2020 | Journal of Public Health | Oxford Academic (