Britons are living longer than ever before despite concerns about obesity and health problems, a leading scientist has claimed.
Average life expectancy has soared to 80-years-old – an incredible eight years more than it was in the 1970s.
The figure is even higher than the U.S.- the country with the highest spending on health care – where people live to on average 78.4 years.
Increasing life expectancy proves that as a nation we are eating more healthily than ever before and paying more attention to our bodies, professor David Leon says.
But Professor Leon warns that unless more is done to tackle obesity among the current generation of youngsters life expectancy could slip back into the 1970s.
‘The message here is really to look at how well we have been doing and not squander it. Contrary to what people believe, the USA does not have better life expectancy.
‘Despite what many may have assumed, and without being complacent, current trends in European life expectancy are in a positive direction.
‘But while the European experience since 1980 underlines the centrality of the social, political and economic determinants of health, many intriguing and important questions remain unanswered about the drivers of these extraordinary trends.’
Professor Leon, of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, concluded that in the last five years, most European countries have been improving for the first time in decades – although the gap between East and West remains entrenched.
He added deaths from cardiovascular disease in the UK had seen ‘some of the largest and most rapid falls of any Western European country, partly due to improvements in treatment as well as reductions in smoking and other risk factors’.
Fewer infections during childhood thanks to immunisation and better nutrition are also believed to have helped people grow taller and stronger.
Writing in an editorial in the International Journal of Epidemiology, Professor Leon compares life expectancy in western Europe with eastern Europe and the US.
He said that the US was at the same level as the lowest of any Western European country, despite spending more per capita on health care than any other country in the world, with the rate for women increasing at a much slower pace than Western Europe.
In 2007, average life expectancy in the US was 78 years compared to 80 in the UK.
In 2008, British male life expectancy stood at 77.9 and female life expectancy stood at 82.0, while Russian men could expect to live to 61.8 and women to 74.2, data from the World Health Organisation and the Human Mortality Database revealed.
Professor Leon praised the higher life expectancy and said it was partly due to some of the good work of the NHS. But he warned that long-term effects of obesity on cancer rates and children have yet to be seen.
‘The big uncertainty is what will be the health impact of a generation of chubby kids growing into obese adults and what happens when they get to 60’, he told the Daily Express.
‘That is an experiment that has never been done before.’
Professor Leon said that longer life expectancy heralded certain problems such as an added burden on the state through pensions and the NHS.
There are also concerns on a global level about the increasing population combined with a shortage of food, space and natural resources.
Life span can also depend on several factors including location. Although the average Briton now lives to 80 this can be much lower in poorer areas where the average life expectancy was 75.8 in 2008 compared with 80 for wealthier regions.
And earlier this week it was revealed that on the Gurnos estate in Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales the average life expectancy for men is just 58.8 years.
There was found to be a ‘culture of despair’ in the former iron and coal town where men don’t care about living long healthy lives – because their quality of life is so poor.
The grim figures revealed by the local Public Health Board are blamed on poor diet, heavy smoking and a high suicide rate due to unemployment.