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The ticking time-bomb of our average lives

5th August 2014

We are a nation in crisis, wilfully neglecting our health and expecting the already overburdened NHS to “pick up the pieces”

As a nation, we are guilty of severely neglecting our health on even the most fundamental level, failing on a daily basis to meet basic health and wellbeing guidelines, a report from mutual health and wellbeing provider Benenden Health launched today (4 August) reveals.

Benenden Health’s National Health Report 2014 questioned 4,000 people across the UK to take an in-depth look at the state of the nation’s health and wellbeing and paint a portrait of what Mr and Mrs Average look like from a health perspective. The picture painted is bleak and shows a nation in crisis: Mr and Mrs Average fail to follow seven out of eight basic health guidelines, leading to a population that is overweight, overtired, unfit, poorly nourished, dehydrated, and which is destined to have a catalogue of health issues in their future.

Commenting on the findings of the report, medical director of Benenden Health, Dr John Giles, said: “This year has already seen unprecedented discussion in Parliament, in the media and the corridors of our health institutions around the struggles the NHS is facing. An ageing population and advances in medical science, alongside the surge in complex chronic illnesses, mean the NHS as it was originally conceived is no longer viable.

“There should be a greater expectation on individuals to play their part and take better care of their health: the authoritative National Health Report 2014 proves that we are simply not taking even the most basic measures to maintain good health.”

The report also reveals the worrying statistic that Mr Average has a BMI of 26.2 and Mrs Average has a BMI of 25.9 – both these figures indicate someone who is overweight and at an increased risk of developing heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. The NHS relies on a person’s body mass index (BMI) to classify whether they are a healthy weight: anything between 18.5-24.9 is considered healthy. Using their BMI as a gauge, more than half the population (52.5%) is classified as either overweight or obese, with a further 6% deemed underweight; 42% of the population has a healthy BMI.

When it comes to drinking fluids, the NHS signposts the public to the European Food Safety Authority recommendations, which advocates that men drink a minimum of two and women drink 1.6 litres a day. The Benenden Health report shows Mr Average falls woefully short of the recommendations, drinking only 953mls a day (more than a litre less than is needed to avoid dehydration), while Mrs Average drinks only 896mls a day. Those aged 35-44 drink the most water (1 litre a day), and the over 85s drink the least – on average, just 487mls a day. However, it is not a lack of knowledge on the subject that leads to the nation drinking too little as 51% know they should be drinking more.

Margaret Thatcher may have only needed four hours sleep a night but it is widely accepted that 7-8 hours is the optimal amount of sleep needed. However, Mrs Average only manages 6.5 hours a night, while Mr Average has slightly less (6.4). Perhaps unsurprisingly those aged 16- 24 enjoy the most sleep (7 hours a night on average), while those over 84 have the least (5.5 hours).

The population is also complacent about exercise and the associated health benefits with Mr Average doing less than half (73 minutes) the recommended amount of moderate intensity cardio a week than the NHS recommends. Mrs Average also fails to work up a sweat as much as is needed and only does 69 minutes a week of cardio – far short of the 150 minutes advised. Two muscle strengthening work outs a week should also form part of everyone’s keep fit regime, yet both Mr and Mrs Average fail to meet these guidelines (1.4 and 1.1 sessions respectively). There appears to be a correlation between the level someone is educated at and the amount of exercise they do: respondents with doctorates reportedly do 95 minutes of cardio a week, compared to those who are only educated to GCSE/O level standards, who only do 63 minutes of cardio a week.

The NHS’s campaign to stub out smoking is obviously having an impact, with 72% of the population now classifying themselves as non-smokers. However Mr Average is still lighting up 3.8 times a day – marginally more than Mrs Average, who smokes 3.3 times a day. Despite Mr and Mrs Average not adhering to the vast majority of health guidelines, it appears that they have got the message about the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption. Mr Average drinks 13.6 units of alcohol a week, while women drink 8.4 units, both of which are in line with NHS recommendations of not regularly drinking more than 2-3 units per day for women and 3-4 units per day for men.

Reporting on the findings, medical director of Benenden Health, Dr John Giles, said: “At a time when modern medicine is making consistent major breakthroughs to give us longer lives and treat illnesses that even 20 years ago were fatal, the UK population appears to be doing everything in its power to make those extra years as unhealthy and miserable as possible.

“We cannot continually rely on the NHS to pick up the pieces of our below average approach to looking after ourselves: this laissez-faire approach is massively overburdening our country’s health service.”

The report also explores the mental wellbeing of the nation and reveals that 42% of the public has suffered from stress at some point in their lives, with women falling victim to stress more than men (48% and 35% respectively). More women than men have also suffered from depression (43% versus 32%), anxiety (39% versus 25%), insomnia (34% versus 21%) and loneliness (25% versus 17%). It is the way that men and women address their mental health issues though that really sets them apart: both parties watch TV to de-stress but 53% of women find reading is an effective way to un-wind, compared to just 32% of men; 44% of women report that having a bath is relaxing, while only half as many men would choose to have a bath to de-stress. On average, one in five adults (22%) turn to alcohol to overcome stress, but men prefer this option (27%) to women (18%).

The findings of the report tally with the public’s views of the nation’s health – that we are currently unhealthier than at any point in the past 50 years. When asked how healthy they think the nation currently is, 71% of respondents answered either ‘not very healthy’ or ‘not at all healthy’ – when asked the same question about the nation’s health 50 years ago, only 29% of respondents answered negatively. Looking forward to the health of the nation in 20 years time, respondents were marginally more positive: a comparatively low 52% believe that we will be ‘not very healthy’ or ‘not at all healthy’; a third (33%) thinks we will be ‘quite healthy’ and 16% think the nation will be ‘very healthy’.
Dr John Giles said: “While medical advances will undoubtedly continue to help extend our life expectancy, it is naïve to think that the nation will become healthier in the future unless we start taking a more proactive approach to our health.

“This report confirms what we, as a mutual healthcare provider, see every day: the NHS is being crippled by the current epidemic of lifestyle choices and associated diseases and non-essential procedures, which by and large could be prevented were we to adhere to simple health guidelines: eat healthily, sleep well, drink lots of fluid, exercise, avoid excessive alcohol, don’t smoke – simple steps that make a phenomenal difference.”

View Benenden Health’s National Health Report 2014. 

 

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