We do not bring you glad tidings of great joy on this grey January morning: a new study conducted by experts at the University of Newcastle and published in the journal Age and Ageing warns that over two million of us will suffer from a serious disease within 20 years, owing to unhealthy lifestyle factors and a rise in obesity. Rates of cancer, dementia and arthritis are set to double, with two thirds of over 65s predicted to suffer from at least two such diseases, and cases of diabetes are forecast to at least double by 2035.
A study of data of 300,000 participants aged over 35 indicates that it’s not simply an ageing population, living longer, that will put further pressure on the NHS, but an increased level of sickness across the board. Currently 45 per cent of those aged 65-74 have at least two serious health conditions, but this is estimated to rise to 53 per cent by 2035. Meanwhile, 10 per cent of over 65s suffer with four of more illnesses, a stat that’s likely to rise to 17 per cent by 2035. Rates of cancer are expected to see the sharpest spike, with an approximate 179 per cent increase in diagnoses in the over 65 age group by 2035. Only 0.9 per cent of over 85s are predicted to have no serious illnesses at all, compared to today’s healthier figure of 8.8 per cent.
Lead author of the study and professor of epidemiology of ageing at Newcastle University Carol Jagger underlines that the cause of these grim predictions is strongly correlated with our modern way of life:
“It is primarily the lifestyle factors that are driving these diseases. Obesity and physical activity are the main ones. We are much more sedentary than we were before. It’s about breaking the habits earlier in life. Individuals have to take control of their own health.”
A recent healthy lifestyle report by market intelligence agency Mintel suggests that we value healthy habits and have glowing intentions, but we’re not quite seeing our health goals through. Eating a healthy diet is particularly important for UK women (73 per cent cite this as a priority), and over two thirds of Brits state that getting regular exercise is one of the most vital elements for staying well, yet only 14 per cent of us are physically active each day, and only 20 per cent consume the recommended ‘five a day’ of fruit and veg . Despite falling short in terms of diet and exercise, 51 per cent of the population describe themselves as ‘healthy’ or ‘very healthy’ for their age group, and only 15 per cent concede that they live a somewhat or very unhealthy lifestyle.
Clearly taking individual action to improve our health is essential to enhancing our quality of life and reducing the burden on NHS and care services in future, but as anyone will a full-time desk bound job plus commute and responsibilities outside of the daily grind knows, it’s not always easy to access a balanced meal on the go or escape the rat race for a run. We’re all in this together, so healthy workplace initiatives , subsided/ affordable healthy meal choices and greater and responsibility and transparency within the food industry (not to mention clear, non-misleading labelling ) should be on the menu sooner rather than later too.