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On the fast track to an early death

On the fast track to an early death

🕔21.Dec 2012

The annual booze-laden calorie fest that represents Christmas for many people is only just beginning.

But Birmingham City Council has a sobering message for those tempted to turn one drunken party into a way of life.

It’s reminding revellers about the main causes of preventable illness – smoking, alcohol, lack of exercise and obesity.

And, somewhat unusually, Birmingham’s cross city rail line is being used to indicate huge differences in life expectancy depending on where you live.

Infant mortality, for example, is zero in Sutton Coldfield but 14.3 per 1,000 births six stops down the line at Duddeston.

The wellbeing campaign is timed to coincide with the transfer of public health issues to local authorities from health trusts next April.

Here is a New Year message for Chamberlain File readers from Steve Bedser, cabinet member for health and wellbeing, and Dr Adrian Phillips, Birmingham’s new director of public health:

If the top ten lists we see in the lifestyle sections of newspapers every year are accurate, many of us will head into 2013 determined to lose weight, quit smoking, drink less and generally lead fitter, healthier lives.

Our New Year’s resolution for Birmingham incorporates each of those worthy intentions, because as the council prepares to take responsibility for public health, the overall aim is crystal clear.

We must start to reduce the health inequalities that continue to blight the lives of thousands of people in this city –often simply based on where they happen to live.

“It’s startling that just eight miles separates the highest and lowest life expectancy areas in the city. If we use the cross-city rail network to illustrate the issue, we find that:

  • Within only eight stops you can shave nine years off the life expectancy of a citizen.
  • Within eleven stops you can shave eleven years off the life expectancy of a male citizen.
  • Within five stops you can shave five years off the life expectancy of a female citizen.

The most sobering thing is that the main conditions responsible for the gap in life expectancy are preventable. Three types of disease areas that are contributing the most to this gap:

  • Cardiovascular and Circulatory diseases.
  • Cancers.
  • Respiratory diseases.

These three combined represent the biggest gap between Birmingham and England and yet premature deaths from these conditions are clearly avoidable.

The main causes of preventable illnesses are:

  • Smoking.
  • Alcohol use.
  • Obesity and poor diet.
  • Physical inactivity.
  • Poor education.
  • Poor living conditions.
  • Poverty/Deprivation.

There are around 190,000 smokers (26 per cent of adults) in Birmingham. 40 per cent of these smokers live in the most deprived wards while just 14 per cent come from the most affluent.

But there is hope. Our Smoking Services in Birmingham have grown from strength to strength since they were launched in 2001, going from helping just 300 in the first year to over 10,000 in the past 12 months. That’s a UK record. And there are huge benefits if we continue to build on that success.

There are a number of other challenges if we are to reduce those health inequalities and again a look at the cross-city train line illustrates the scale of those challenges.

Within only six stops the rate of Infant Mortality rises from zero (Sutton Coldfield) to 14.3 (Duddeston).

Within only five stops the amount of obese people living in wards almost doubles (from University to Gravelly Hill).

The moral argument for tackling these inequalities is irrefutable but there’s also a huge financial cost if we fail to act.

Put bluntly, our current health and social care system is unsustainable and will buckle under the weight of demand unless we re-engineer our planning and service provision to promote healthy choices, protect health, prevent sickness and intervene early to minimise the need for costly hospital treatment. We need to reform all of our systems, services and plans so that they actively promote health rather than simply treatment a rising tide of illness and long term conditions.

We want Birmingham to be a city where people:

  • Are physically active, eat well, drink alcohol in moderation, and do not smoke a city where people have aspiration, are able to achieve during childhood, and succeed economically as adults.
  • Live long, independent lives, in their own homes.

Stating those aims is the easy bit but the hard work is already underway to make 2013 the year we make real headway in the public health challenge facing Birmingham.


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