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UK study by benenden health finds a nation wilfully neglecting its health

12th September 2014

The UK public believes we are unhealthier now than at any time in the past 50 years - storing up a catalogue of future health problems, but doing little to change our fate, according to large-scale UK study from mutual healthcare provider benenden health.

The National Health Report 2014 is the first in what will be an annual study by benenden, representing a major investment and commitment to monitor the health and wellbeing habits of the population against guidelines from the Government and medical profession.  

The comprehensive study questioned 4000 men and women and found a nation of people severely neglecting themselves even on the most fundamental level. When asked how healthy people believe we as a nation currently are, 71% answered either ‘not very healthy’ or ‘not at all healthy’ compared to just 29% of respondents believing the public were unhealthy 50 years ago.

Painting a bleak picture of a nation in crisis, the survey results were compiled to profile the health of an average man and woman. The findings show they typically fail to follow seven out of eight basic health guidelines, leading to a population that is overweight, overtired, unfit, poorly nourished and dehydrated.

The report reveals the worrying statistic that Mr Average has a BMI of 26.2 and Mrs Average has a BMI of 25.9 – both figures indicating someone who is overweight and at increased risk of developing heart disease, stroke and type-2 diabetes. 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.

Mr Average eats just 3.3 portions of the Department of Health’s (DoH) recommended ‘five a day’, while Mrs Average consumes only slightly more (3.5) – falling well short of recent research that claims that eating seven portions of fruit and vegetables can lower the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Despite failing to meet the DoH recommendations, the report reveals that the public knows it should be eating ‘five a day’, but chooses not to.

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  2 litres,and women 1.6 litres a day. The Benenden Health report shows Mr Average falls woefully short of the recommendations, drinking only 953mls a day (over a litre less than is needed to avoid dehydration), while Mrs Average drinks only 896mls a day.

Again, it is not a lack of knowledge on the subject that leads to the nation drinking too little - 51% know they should drink more.

Benenden health’s medical director Dr John Giles said of the study findings: “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.”

But it doesn’t stop there. 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 education and the amount of exercise people take: respondents with doctorates claimed to do 95 minutes of cardio a week, compared to those educated to GCSE/O level standards, who admitted just 63 minutes of cardio a week.

Dr Giles stressed more onus should be put on individuals to take responsibility for their wellbeing: “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 becoming increasingly threatened.

“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.”

However, there’s some small consolation for healthcare professionals in that the NHS’s campaign to stub out smoking is having an impact, with 72% of the population now classifying themselves as non-smokers.

Dr John Giles concluded: “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.”

 

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