Healthy behaviours

In this section we explore some of the most significant health-related behaviours, their impact on our health and wellbeing, and how they are changing over time in England. We also look at how some behaviours vary with people’s socio-economic status.

In this section

Key messages

  • Current lifestyles present a serious threat to population health, particularly for more disadvantaged groups
    66 per cent of the adult population are not meeting recommended minimum levels of activity; 70 per cent do not consume the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables; 26 per cent are obese; 21 per cent smoke; and 27 per cent of men and 18 per cent of women drink more than recommended safe limits of alcohol. Although reported levels of physical activity are rising and levels of smoking are declining slightly, rates of obesity are predicted to continue to rise. The rates are higher in more disadvantaged groups. These behaviours significantly increase the risk of chronic disease, including cancer, and reduce life expectancy.
  • There have been some improvements in lifestyle risks across the population; the greatest improvements are in higher socio-economic and educational groups
    While professional groups have seen significant falls in the proportion with three or four unhealthy behaviours, there has been no significant fall for unskilled groups.
  • More than 60 per cent of the population have a negative or fatalistic attitude towards their own health, particularly in more disadvantaged groups
    If current attitudes continue, rates of avoidable ill-health and health inequalities are likely to grow.
  • There are some improving trends in behaviour of young people, but many continue to have a poor diet
    Rates of drinking, smoking and drug-taking in the young have fallen significantly over the past 10 years. Obesity rates in the young are also falling and levels of activity increasing, largely through increased activity at school. However, 80 per cent of children still have a poor diet and do not eat the recommended amounts of fruit and vegetables.

Key uncertainties

  • Behaviours and attitudes towards health
    It is difficult to predict how people’s attitude to their health and behaviour will change over time. Current trends suggest a growing socio-economic divide as those who are better off take on board health messages and adopt healthier lifestyles and those from more disadvantaged backgrounds do not. The improvements seen in young people’s behaviour suggest that they may take a more positive approach to their health as they grow older.
  • Regulatory environment
    The current government has shown reluctance to regulate the food and drinks industry, but as pressures on health budgets grow this attitude may change and could have an impact on the nation’s health.

Impact of unhealthy behaviours on the NHS and wider economy

Click on this table to enlarge.

impact-of-unhealthy-behaviours-on-nhs-2009.jpg

Sources: * Department of Health Chief Medical Officer Annual Report 2009; ** Estimates by The King’s Fund based on Department of Health, Chief Medical Officer Annual Report 2009

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