UK life expectancy declines amid pandemic impact

The UK’s latest life expectancy data, as reported by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), revealed a decline attributed largely to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Boys born during 2020-2022 are now expected to live up to 78.6 years, a decrease from 79.3 years for those born in 2017-2019. Similarly, girls’ life expectancy has dropped to 82.6 years from 83.0 years. The ONS emphasises that these figures, influenced by high mortality rates in 2020 and 2021, don’t necessarily predict individual lifespans, as future improvements in mortality rates could alter these projections. Pamela Cobb from the ONS said:

“After a decade of slowing life expectancy improvements, we’ve now seen life expectancy fall for both men and women. This decrease has been mainly driven by the coronavirus pandemic, which led to increased mortality in 2020 and 2021.

However, a fall in life expectancy does not mean that a baby born in 2020 to 2022 will go on to live a shorter life. The average lifespan of a baby born today will be determined by changes in mortality across their lifetime. If mortality rates improve, then life expectancy will go back up.”

This recent data marks a return to the life expectancy levels of a decade ago, with females at their 2010-2012 level and males slightly below. Over the past ten years, the UK has seen gains in life expectancy. The King’s Fund, a health and care charity, interprets this data as a clear indication of the pandemic’s profound impact on UK life expectancy.

It warns that a failure to recover from this period could signify deeper issues within the nation’s health and healthcare system resilience. The charity advocates for a comprehensive government strategy focusing on promoting healthier lifestyles, early illness detection and treatment, and addressing health disparities, especially in deprived communities.

Regionally, England leads in life expectancy for both sexes, while Scotland lags behind. For the 2020-2022 cohort, life expectancy stands at 78.8 years for males and 82.8 years for females in England, compared to 76.5 years for males and 80.7 years for females in Scotland. The pandemic has also reduced life expectancy for those aged 65, with estimates now similar to those of 2011-2013.

In another ONS report, the population aged 90 and over in England and Wales in 2022 reached a record high of 550,835, a 2.1% increase from 2021. The number of centenarians has more than doubled since 2002, with about 15,120 living in England and Wales in 2022. Notably, the gender gap in this age group has narrowed significantly over the past three decades.

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