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Cancer biggest cause of difference in life expectancy for people in deprived NI areas

Reduced life expectancy among men and women living in poorer areas compared with those in wealthier regions is largely due to cancer-related deaths, a Northern Ireland government report has concluded.  

Official figures released this week by the country’s Department of Health showed that men living in the most deprived areas of Northern Ireland have a life expectancy of 74.2 years, which is 7.1 fewer years than those living in the wealthiest parts. 

Cancer was found to be the biggest reason behind the difference – accounting for 1.6 years of the reduced life expectancy for men in deprived regions. This was followed by circulatory disease (1.4 years) and suicide (0.6 years).

Meanwhile, women in the poorest areas tend to live 4.5 years less than their counterparts in more affluent places – who live to 84.1 years on average. 

For them, cancer-related deaths account for almost a third (1.4 years) of the reduced life expectancy, while circulatory and respiratory diseases are attributable to 0.9 and 0.8 years respectively.

The BMA said it was likely the increased incidence of cancer in deprived regions was due to lifestlye factors and called for a ‘multi-agency’ approach to tackle the problems, alongside funding.

The Government report showed that despite a slight increase in the country’s overall male life expectancy – from 78 years in 2011/13 and 78.5 years in 2015/17 – the figures show there are still huge variations across NI.

It noted men in the 20% most deprived areas are expected to live to 74.2 years compared, compared with 81.3 years for those in the 20% least deprived areas.

The report said: ‘Despite the observed improvements in life expectancy in NI, notable variations in the age people can expect to live to remain across the NI population. For those living in the most and least deprived areas, between genders, and between urban and rural areas, large inequality gaps in life expectancy continue to exist.’

BMA Northern Ireland’s GP Committee chair Dr Alan Stout said: ‘Increased incidence of cancer and circulatory disease in deprived areas is probably due to lifestyle and while work has been done to address problems around mental health, diet and smoking unfortunately it remains true that the complex and multi-layered issues faced by people living in social and economic deprivation mean that they are still disadvantaged in terms of health outcomes with respect to those in less deprived areas.’

He added: ‘There needs to be a multi-agency approach to addressing these issues as factors like employment, education and housing play a significant role in health outcomes. This approach needs to be underpinned with funding and statutory, voluntary and community services working together to improve the long-term health of everyone in NI.’