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In the News

Place and Health: Where Years of Life in Good Health Are in Steep Decline

Alice Griffiths

7th December 2022

The relationship between place and health was highlighted by a Guardian Newspaper report this week about the disparity between average years of good health within the UK. Between Grimsby in North East Lincolnshire and Wokingham, Berkshire there is a 15-year gap in the so-called 'healthy life expectancy' on average; a similar gap to that between the UK average and Sudan.

Grimsby and its population have been hard hit by austerity and economic change

We are familiar with average life expectancy as a measure of development. The unit of disability-adjusted life year (DALY) is used by geographers when they consider the overall burden of a disease, such as asthma - it combines mortality (early death) and morbidity (ill health or disability) in a single measure. 'Years of life in good health' is a complementary indicator. It conveys the idea that in a highly developed economy such as the UK, our lives are prolonged by ongoing investment in our NHS (and for some private healthcare); however, the duration of years in which we can actively contribute to the economy or local community is likely to be a sub-set of our overall life-span.

For the population of Grimsby, a place which saw the largest fall in years of life in good health in England and Wales since 2011, there is a concern that poor health could affect the economy.

This decline has been reported at a time when the green shoots of the renewable energy industry amongst others offer hope for Grimsby's economic reboot, following the decline of its trawler fleet and where the cost of Brexit and the pandemic threatens the local food processing industry. Local councillors' have expressed that there are difficulties with reskilling people in the local area, not least if their health is poor - an observation which might inform the 'levelling up' agenda. Clearly, the success of any investment to transform the economic character of a place will be intrinsically linked to the welfare of potential workers, and whether health and social services are sufficient.

The Guardian report notes that 'long-term illness rates are significantly higher in the north of England than in London and the south-east' and in Grimsby 'the hospital trust recently said its main departments were either full or under pressure'.

Alice Griffiths

Alice has taught Geography over a period of twenty years. She is a published author and editor of a wide range of A level resources and has also created award-winning, online content for younger students. An occasional presenter at the GA’s annual conference, she was head of department at an 11-18 school until 2020.

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