North East researchers tackle health lottery gap

A pioneering North East  study into health inequality has come up with ways to help address the worrying issue

Newcastle University
Newcastle University

Research in the North East which looked at ways to close the gap in health inequality has been hailed a success after identifying a number of ways to tackle the problem.

As reported in The Journal, a pilot project led by Newcastle University brought academics and people from the community together to take part in pioneering simulation.

The aim of the project, called Initiative on Changing Age, was to create formulae based on people’s lifestyle and health makeup that will boost their life expectancy.

As is stands, people living less than eight miles apart face 11 years difference in how long they are expected to lead healthy and active lives before serious disease or disability.

Recommendations from the two-day simulation include more community health trainers being recruited from the local areas they serve, as well as prescribing social activities as an alternative to medication for some forms of mental illness and more focus on stop smoking services.

It is the first time such a model has been used to tackle the problem, which also concluded that there is need for a national policy for job creation and improved housing better targeted towards disadvantaged groups.

Prof Tom Kirkwood, director of Newcastle Initiative on Changing Age, said: “We cannot claim to have solved this huge societal challenge in just two days but this is a real step in the right direction.

“What was so satisfying about the event was the great mix of people who were all able to stretch their minds and have their voices heard in what is a very real problem.

“People are genuinely shocked by the glaring gap in health expectancy and by the gross unfairness it reveals. This simulation brought fresh energy and innovation in how we can look to reducing this.

“It proved conclusively that local people, from disadvantaged areas, should be in meetings where experts and practitioners plan health policy.

“The resulting gains will be good for maintaining quality of life as well as for avoiding preventable high-cost dependency.” The simulation was more than a one-off event as it has established a template which can be rolled out across other regions and overseas where there are similar gaps. It also has great value as an education tool for universities, schools and colleges, as well as local authorities.

The mission is to halve the gap for people aged 55, the age regarded as the “last chance saloon” for long lasting health problems, over the next 10 years without increasing public expenditure.

Age-related, chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis and some cancers are all made more likely by underlying factors that reflect a combination of environment and lifestyle, including poor diet, lack of physical activity, smoking and alcohol.

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