It has been known for over 50 years that rich people on average live longer than poor people, who also suffer more years of disability before they die. This is true in all countries that have been investigated, despite huge variations in average wealth. It is often referred to as the social gradient of health. In Leeds, and in other cities, social segregation results in huge variations in life expectancy between different neighbourhoods.

These maps show the latest age-adjusted all cause mortality data for Leeds, where the deepest grey indicates the highest death rates. Data has been collected for middle layer super output areas (MSOAs) which contain, on average, about 7,800 people. These figures have been adjusted for the age structure of the population, so that the large concentration of healthy young students in Headingley, for example, will not distort the overall results. The male and female maps are different because women on average tend to live longer than men.

The mortality data has been overlaid in red with the boundaries of the Council wards. It is easy to identify richer neighbourhoods with markedly lower death rates. The obvious question is why these differences exist, and whether Council intervention might raise life expectancy in the poorest areas to equal that in the richest. There has been considerable research on the factors contributing to early deaths.

Cigarette smoking is a major contributor which is concentrated in the poorest neighbourhoods. Smoking kills 100,000 people per year in the UK. Smoking causes cancer in the lungs and many other organs, it causes vascular disease leading to heart attacks and strokes, and it leads to years of disability through chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This does not, however, explain the whole picture. After correcting for tobacco deaths, it is clear that other factors must also be taken into account.

Physical inactivity also correlates with an early death, and it is noticeable that areas with high death rates often suffer from severe defciencies in recreational open space. Physical inactivity is linked to depression, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Children in deprived areas have fewer opportunities to be physically active, and are less likely to carry this behaviour into adult life.

Wealth itself makes a major contribution. Rich people live in warmer, drier, larger houses, with less traffic pollution and less vibration and noise. Rich people have more choice. They find it easier to visit their GP, and seek medical help earlier when they are ill. It all adds up: a few percent reduction in risk, spread across a person's life style, equates to the scandalous 12 years difference in life expectancy between the richest and the poorest areas of Leeds.

Read more about Mortality at TheKingsFund What is happening to life expectancy in the UK?

Last updated 16 August 2018 at 16:17. Back to the top

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Promoted by John Illingworth, 37 Kirkwood Way, Leeds LS16 7EU