Life expectancy among British women is already among the lowest in Western Europe but recent trends seemed to indicate that the gap is closing.
Those hopes were dashes with the publication of a study by Public Health England which reveals that, for older women at least, their progress has been reversed, at least in the short term.
The change is not enormous by any means, an 85 year old woman can expect to live for six weeks fewer than they could a couple of years ago, but they should still expect to reach 91 and beyond.
Life expectancy for men continues to increase.
The unexpected change of direction has been seen as a ‘warning’ by the authors of the study that something may have changed that has a disproportionate effect on the older women’s groups.
Professor John Ashton, president of the UK faculty of Public Health pointed out the convergence of lifestyles in the comparative groups as “one of the issues”, he observed women’s choices were “becoming more like those of men over recent decades, with more smoking and drinking.”
Equally likely causes, however, were the cutbacks in social care and lack of provision made by successive governments for an ageing population.
“We are letting down the very people who came through the war and built the welfare state,” he said.
These figures related specifically to the pre-war and early baby boomers who fought so hard to gain a recognition of women’s rights.
It would be cruelly ironic if their efforts to achieve parity would include assuming lifestyles like poor diet, high stress, high alcohol and tobacco consumption that would reduce their own longevity.
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