A report from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) has revealed healthy life expectancy figures throughout England and Wales.

The interactive map and accompanying write up seems to shed light on the significant disparities in health and longevity between different parts of the country.

What does ‘healthy life expectancy’ mean?

Healthy life expectancy (HLE) refers to the number of years we can expect to live before our health begins to deteriorate, due to factors such as disease or injury.

The ONS has used 2011 census data to create a small area statistical analysis. They have produced an interactive map to help readers visualise the results. Life expectancy and healthy life expectancy estimates were given as expected years at birth, to those born between 2009 and 2013.

What did the data say?

According to the report, for women:

  • the median HLE in England and Wales was 65.4;
  • the area with the the lowest HLE at 47.6 was Middlehaven, Middlesbrough;
  • the area with the highest HLE with 83 was Blackheath and Wonersh, Surrey;

while for men:

  • the median HLE in England and Wales was 64.2;
  • the area with the lowest HLE at 47.1 was Bloomfield, Blackpool;
  • and the area with the highest HLE at 79.1 was Knightsbridge and Belgravia, Westminster.

These statistics show that certain sections of the population can expect to live in good health for over three decades longer than people living in other areas of the country.

The map is intricate and detailed, making it possible to search for HLE figures in areas streets apart.

Some striking disparities were also noted on a local (or as the report terms it, ‘within authority’) level. For instance, the Knightsbridge and Belgravia ward had a HLE around 10 years above the national average; whereas in the nearby Westminster Church Street ward HLE estimates were around 25 years below this.

What do the results mean?

The results present a stark picture of health inequalities throughout England and Wales.

It is possible that some readers may be alarmed by the results of the study but it is important to note that there are many variating factors. While the report does not reveal the underlying reasons behind these disparities, some have pointed towards access to healthcare, employment levels and economic activity as contributing factors.

For instance, earlier this year the Longevity Science Panel produced a report on life expectancy using ONS statistics. The results suggested that the overall life expectancy gap, between rich and poor, is widening, and that income is the most influential factor on mortality.

So, simply moving house to a postcode with a higher HLE will not necessarily impact your own life expectancy.

The new ONS data could be said to strengthen the evidence for a correlation between poverty and poor health outcomes. The data could potentially be used to shape the future of funding for NHS primary care models, allowing for a concentration of funds in the areas with the worst HLE.

The ONS report noted that: ‘Living long healthy lives with narrow within authority small area disparities is the aim of government policy.’ Purbeck had the lowest ‘within authority’ variation in HLE between small area localities, at 3.8 years. The report explains that ‘Purbeck’s low inequality and high HLE is the preferable health landscape for an authority to aspire to.

You can read the full ONS report and view the maps here.