Leading article: Long life

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The Independent Online

It is not often, in these days of early dusk and gathering recession, that good news comes along.

But the Office for National Statistics produced some yesterday. Life expectancy has increased significantly in all parts of the United Kingdom over the past 20 years, and the gap in life expectancy between men and women has narrowed by one and a half years.

The biggest improvement was registered in London, but the second biggest is perhaps where many would least expect it: in the north east. The improvements, and specifically the narrowing gender gap, are put down to better diet, fewer smokers and earlier treatment of heart disease. All in all, they are testimony to what a combination of government money, medical advances and changing personal behaviour can achieve.

If you prefer not to be raised from your gloom, you might note that Britain still lags behind a number of other countries, most notably France. You might also fear that 2008 is as good as it is going to get, what with more young women engaging in what is darkly called "risky behaviour" and the incidence of obesity rising across the board.

For once, though, let's look on the bright side: more Britons are living longer and healthier lives, and that is surely an unalloyed good thing.