Old Habits Die Hard, But The Times Could Be A Changing
By Stephen Noble on April 4, 2010 in Society
There’s always a metaphorical rainbow at the end of a storm – that little something that manages to take the sting out of things and give some perspective by bringing a touch of balance.
Take this paragraph from an NHS north east profile: “The health of the people in the north east is generally worse than England as a whole. Smoking in pregnancy, hospital stays for alcohol related harm and breast feeding initiation are worse than the England average. However, the percentage of physically active children is better than the England average.”
Wahey! Seems we’re active little scamps, though not really the healthiest adults. The average man in the north east is looking at 76.3 years, whereas across England it’s 77.9 years (probably why you never see any happy birthday cards for your Dad’s 78th bonanza).
Nonnie Crawford is the director of public health in Sunderland, a city with an 18 year difference in life expectancy from one area to another. This month she oversaw the release of the city’s annual health report published by NHS South of Tyne and Wear.
“Progress is being made in some key areas, although many challenges still remain.”
In the report, Nonnie said: “The good news is that overall life expectancy for people in Sunderland is increasing and that mortality from heart disease and cancer has decreased significantly over the last 15 years.”
She continued: “The bad news is that life the life expectancy gap between Sunderland and England as a whole is not decreasing.”
See the silver lining? It’s not increasing…
Nonnie added: “The report is designed to provide an overview of the current health of Sunderland and the work that is going on to deal with our problems and improve the situation.
“It is possible to live longer and stay healthy into old age and progress is being made in some key areas, although many challenges still remain.”
Mainly, the challenges are the things that knock a year or more off life, typically boozing, sucking fags and being fat.
31% drink heavily once a week or more, only 20% go for such depravity nationally.
The Sunderland report shows one in four smoke, which isn’t terrible compared to the 22% national average.
Drinking’s a little different. 31% drink heavily once a week or more, only 20% go for such depravity nationally. Being obese can take up to nine years off your life, and 24% of people around Sunderland are inadvertently bringing down the averages with their weight.
But Sunderland isn’t special. Across the region it’s a similar picture, the difference between within the north east is being explained with high levels of depravation. The north east has some exceptional areas, like getting 88.5 years by living in Fatfield & Mount Pleasant (it just sounds like a long-life town), and some down right worrying ones, only 67.8 years in parts of Middlesbrough.
Two years ago, MP Nick Brown unveiled the area’s first health and well-being strategy, a vision from Professor Stephen Singleton, the regional director of public health.
Prof Singleton said: “The north east will have the best and fairest health and well-being and will be recognised for its outstanding and sustainable quality of life.”
“We have had an encouraging start to meeting the major challenge we face.”
The Better Health, Fairer Health campaign is said by all involved to be ambitious, Nick Brown said ‘unrelentingly optimistic’, and in 25 years they’d have the north east as the healthiest place to live in the country.
This means changing culture, habits and attitudes, which takes time and, well, ambition, but if you’re looking 25 years into the future, it’s pointless to aim for being a bit better than now isn’t it?
The scheme is still in early days, but prof Singleton seems pleased with results so far. He said: “Two years down the line and we have had an encouraging start to meeting the major challenge we face.
“Figures released in January showed that smoking in the North East was at a record low. It went down from 29% to 21% over a three-year period. That’s 170,000 fewer smokers and represents a bigger reduction than any other region.”
The thing about me, personally, is I want to live till I’m 100, at least. That’s my only life ambition. It’s at least comforting to think at 50 I could be living in a place full of health nuts who are the envy of all these unfortunate 79.3 year olds who don’t live under an overzealous regional health campaign. It’s a bold strategy, but one that has official bodies looking to really make a difference, and what a transformation it could be, we could have Bamburgh become the new Bondi if my imagination is anything to go by.
Although, to be honest, I’m really hoping that by diffusion from the healthy or some serendipity I can be a fat booze hound who won’t dare leave the house without 10 cubans (cigars that is) when I’m in my nineties. Fingers crossed.
- Feature: No Smoking Day