Health: Why a baby born in the South will live 6 years longer

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The Independent Online
Cambridge is the healthiest place to live in England, and Manchester is the country's death capital. Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor, examines a study which shows that differences in life expectancy are widening.

A boy born today in Cambridge can expect to live to the age of 76 years and seven months - six years and eight months longer than a boy born in Manchester.

The gap between the healthiest and least healthy parts of Britain is now so wide that closing it would dwarf all other efforts to improve health. Even if all cancer was cured tomorrow, the gain in life expectancy would be just three years.

The first study comparing life expectancy in all 105 health authority districts of England, published today in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, shows that the gap has widened over the last 10 years. Affluent districts with the longest-lived people in the Eighties have gained almost three times more years than the poorest districts.

In the leafy home counties of Surrey and Hampshire, life expectancy has risen 2.8 years while in inner-city Manchester and Liverpool it has increased by only one year. Men in inner Manchester and Liverpool have shown almost no improvement.

The study, by Veena Soni Raleigh and Victor Kiri of the National Institute of Epidemiology at the University of Surrey, ranked the districts from one to seven according to how deprived they were using a measure known as the Jarman index, based on unemployment rates, number of one-parent families, elderly living alone, and so on.

As expected, the findings showed a strong association between life expectancy and the deprivation score. The five districts with the greatest deprivation (ranked seven) - in Manchester, Liverpool and three in inner London - also had the lowest life expectancy. Ms Soni Raleigh said: "That is a telling point. Life expectancy in the most deprived areas is still below what it was in the most affluent areas 10 years ago."

Living in the most deprived areas takes four years off your life, on average, for a man and two and a half years for a woman compared with living in the most affluent (ranked one).

In all areas women live longer than men, but the gender gap is widest in deprived areas. Women in inner London, Manchester and Liverpool live an extra seven years compared with four and a half in Cambridge and Surrey. Although gender differences are narrowing overall, in the most deprived areas they have hardly changed.

Dr Richard Smith, editor of the British Medical Journal and publisher of the Journal of Epidemiology, said the findings illustrated the scale of the problem facing the Government which is committed to reducing health inequalities. Measures to improve the health of children and the new born - including nutrition in pregnancy, stopping mothers smoking and pre-school education - were likely to have the greatest effect. "We have got the ship going in the wrong direction. To turn it round will be a long-term job," he said.