British women pay price of leading way in smoking
BRITAIN is paying the price of a post-war smoking boom among women, according to life expectancy figures published by the World Health Organisation yesterday.
Experts blame Britainâ€™s poor showing on high levels of smoking-related diseases among women. They say that smoking among British women in past decades has produced disease levels which are significantly higher than other nations.
Britons can expect 71.7 years of healthy life, according to WHOâ€™s method of studying of "disability-adjusted" life expectancy which measures how long people can expect to live without contracting serious illnesses.
The Japanese are the healthiest nation, at 74.5 years. Australia came second at 73.2 years, followed by France, Sweden, Spain and Italy.
Britain ranks 14th, behind Greece and San Marino.
But the gap between the sexes is far greater in healthier countries. Women, who tend to live healthier lifestyles than men, are living on average seven to eight years longer than men in richer countries, the study found.
British women can expect to stay healthier for longer than men. Womenâ€™s healthy life expectancy in Britain is 73.7 years, compared with 69.7 years among men.
"Levels of smoking among women have dropped in Britain in recent years they are now similar to other developed countries," a WHO spokeswoman said last night. "But Britain is currently paying the price of previous higher smoking levels, which explains its poor showing."
In 1948 about 40 per cent of British women were regular smokers the current proportion is about 26 per cent.
The number of smokers declined steadily throughout the 1970s and 1980s, but until recently levels remained higher than other European nations.
The number of women in Scotland diagnosed with lung cancer grew from 1,542 in 1987 to 1,985 in 1996. However, the number of cases among men fell over the same period.
"The number of women contracting smoking-related diseases is currently peaking in Britain, because Britain led the rise in women smoking after the war," said a spokeswoman for ASH, the anti-smoking group. "In other countries, like France, large numbers of women did not begin smoking until later, so we expect their smoking-disease levels to rise in the next decade."
The United States, which spends more per capita on health than any other nation, fared even worse than Britain, at 24th, with a life expectancy of 70 years. The US lags behind because of miserable health standards among its poor.
"The position of the United States is one of the major surprises of the new ratings system," said Christopher Murray, the director of WHOâ€™s global programme on evidence for health policy.
"In the US, some groups such as Native Americans and the inner-city poor have extremely poor health, more characteristic of a poor developing country than a rich industrialised one."
Sierra Leone, whose people can expect fewer than 26 years of good health, was at the bottom of the list.
The 23 lowest-ranked countries among the 191 WHO members were all in sub-Saharan Africa. They have been hit by AIDS, malaria and other tropical diseases, as well as poor nutrition and unsafe water.
Overall, global healthy life expectancy averaged 64.5 years in 1999.