The common causes of premature death, such as cancer and heart disease, as well as socioeconomic deprivation are subjects that many of us are familiar with, but until recently we couldn’t say for sure whether or not they were connected. A new interactive map from Public Health England has been created to display healthcare data that shows premature death rates across England and allows us to see the variations between each local authority at a glance. The colour-coded Longer Lives map enables users to compare 150 local authorities by five common causes of premature death (deaths occurring before the age of 75) using records of deaths from the Office of National Statistics.
While the information provided is undoubtedly interesting and informative, what can these striking contrasts, such as large parts of the north coloured red (showing poor health) and the south mostly coloured green (good health), encourage us to do, other than create fanciful newspaper headlines? This data can bring awareness to those of which such causes of death (sometimes preventable) were unknown and educate many who may believe that where they live determines their life expectancy. Rather than draw stereotypes from this data, users should start exploring why their regions are more at risk and what communities can do to prevent their own premature death and live longer, healthier lives.
Reasons why your area might be more at risk
There are numerous factors that can account for the differences between regions seen on the map, centring on the causes for premature death and the reasons for it. Cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung disease and liver disease are five common causes of death that are linked to socioeconmic deprivation and the trappings of an unhealthy lifestyle – obesity, alcohol consumption and smoking, for example. Research has revealed that, typically, it is the more deprived areas that suffer from these factors of premature mortality and this is more than likely due to historical influences. The decline of the manufacturing industry means that poverty is now more prevalent in some areas of the north, while cities that show poor health, such as Southampton and Portsmouth have been affected by Britain’s declining importance as a maritime trading nation. Other reasons for variation could be culture, education and housing. This data will help authorities to make better use of their resources by targeting areas in need.
How you can reduce your risk of an early death
While it is easy for those who study this map to use it as a guide for ‘places to avoid’, it is important to take away from this data that where you live does not directly determine your lifespan. After all, there are patches of red signalling poor health in some southern cities, parts of London and in the Midlands – not just in the north. Instead, users of the data should focus on what they can do to lower their risk of premature mortality. Quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy diet, taking regular exercise and moderating the consumption of alcohol can help to prevent an early death. In April, councils became responsible for encouraging their communities to focus on these actions.
As with all healthcare data, the Longer Lives study should be read for the purpose of seeking to improve circumstances and situations. The data collected is revealing in both what it tells us and how it is displayed. In the past, we’ve helped to create similar data views through our interactive dashboards to great effect. Naturally, such information must also be processed in a timely manner in order to reveal these insights whilst they are still relevant. To discuss how we could assist with your own project, please get in touch with us today.