People in Britain are living longer. What’s the secret?

People in Britain are living five years longer on average than they were in 1990, according to Public Health England. A report published in The Lancet found that average life expectancy has jumped from 75.9 to 81.3.

Why are we living longer? One reason is that our roads are safer. But the biggest factor, as Figure 1 shows here, is that fewer people are dying early from heart attacks, strokes and other events caused by cardiovascular disease. Although there is still a long way to go, it’s one of the greatest health triumphs of the past few decades.

Since 1960 the death rate from cardiovascular disease in Britain has dropped by nearly half. A similar trend has been seen in the United States and much of Europe.

A 2004 study in Britain analysed the causes of the trend. In particular it looked at the decline in deaths from coronary heart disease. It found that nearly half (48 per cent) of the decline was down to fewer people smoking. The next biggest factor (42 per cent) was judged to be an improvement in treatments. A lowering of cholesterol and high blood pressure, meanwhile, accounted for 19 per cent of the change (9.5 per cent each).*

Of course it’s not exactly a happy story. Coronary heart disease is still an extremely common cause of death and Britain’s mortality rate is higher than in Italy, Norway and Spain. Public health officials will say we shouldn’t complacent. But at least we have been heading in the right direction.

* Those factors add up to more than 100 per cent. That is because the study takes into account negative population trends too. A rise in obesity and diabetes and a drop in physical activity reduced the impact of the positive trends (lower cholesterol, fewer people smoking) on the mortality rate by 13 per cent. H/T Jonathan Bagley, below.


  • JonathanBagley

    48+42+19>100. This needs more explanation, with reference to the paper.. That there have been some negative changes, eg decrease in physical activity, brings the total down to 100.

    • Mark Greaves

      Thanks for that – have responded above.

  • SomeoneSomeplace

    People are quitting smoking by using electronic cigarettes LEGALLY instead of using the traditional combustible tobacco cigarette! The Government KNOWS by having their citizens quit smoking the traditional combustible tobacco cigarette, they ARE buying at least five, maybe MORE years of life when the citizens use the electronic cigarettes that only has 3 or 4 ingredients in them as compared to 4,000+ chemicals that are found in the traditional combustible tobacco cigarette which is KNOWN TO KILL! When people can breathe better and feel better overall from NOT smoking now, they are more active, lose weight and lower their overall risks for bad health. Public Health of England KNOWS what they are doing! They ARE doing the RIGHT thing for their citizens!! Koodles to them!!! The EU ‘could’ do this, too, and even use Public Health England as something to copy because they have it right and CARE ABOUT THEIR CITIZENS!!! That is to be commended for! Thank you, Public Health England!!!