Young and middle aged adults are struggling to meet health recommendations putting significant pressure on health services
• Over half of UK adults are classified as overweight with obesity rising to its highest levels amongst ‘middle aged’, 45-54 year olds
• Lack of willpower cited as the most common reason for health targets not being met amongst younger (47%) and middle aged adults (31%)
• Over 55s are in the lead when meeting NHS recommended health targets and are least stressed/anxious compared to other age groups
• Younger and middle aged adults have the opportunity for a healthier future by taking responsibility for their everyday health now
88% of UK adults say they believe the NHS should prioritise life threatening conditions over common health issues. Despite this, new research suggests that the general public are arguably not taking enough personal responsibility for their everyday health to help relieve future pressure on the NHS.
According to research by Simplyhealth and YouGov amongst over 2,000 respondents, although there is a high level of public awareness of NHS healthy eating, safe drinking and exercise guidelines, there has been little change, particularly amongst younger and middle aged (under 55s) age groups, in meeting health targets.
The over 55 age groups are in the lead when meeting NHS recommended healthy eating and drinking targets and on average show better mental health, with less concern about stress/anxiety and depression than younger generations. This was highlighted when only 35% of over-55s rated their concerns of stress/anxiety highly (at seven or higher out of 10), compared to approximately half of those aged 18-54.
While it is positive to see people over the age of 55 are taking more responsibility for their everyday health, those under 55 are more likely to be working for longer. Therefore, it is important employers do more to encourage this part of the workforce to engage with their health to enable them to work longer, well.
Despite the UK’s obesity crisis, including the announcement of a new ‘sugar tax’ on soft drinks earlier in the year, there is no evidence that UK BMI levels are changing. The Simplyhealth / YouGov research reveals that over half (58%) of UK adults are classified as overweight, of which 25% are classified obese, with obesity rising to its highest levels amongst the 45-54 age group.
In addition, the research showed that:
• 84% of adults say they are aware of the ‘five a day fresh fruit/veg’ message, but only 31% meet this target as often as recommended. Success in meeting the ‘five a day’ target, at least some of the time rises from 56% of 18-24 year olds to 79% of over-55s.
• Over-55s feel the most confident about their health, reflected in 63% of those self-rating their health seven or higher (out of 10) falling to 60% of 18-34 year olds and to 53% of 35-54s.
Middle age (categorised as 45-54) is the period when people typically felt least healthy, reflected in the lowest percentage of those self-rating themselves as ‘healthy/very healthy’. Separate recent ONS research1 also showed that the middle age group was the “unhappiest life stage”, with the dual pressures of caring for children and elderly parents. This suggests that such pressures may contribute to the lack of motivation in meeting health targets amongst this group.
When asked for the reasons for not following NHS health guidelines, ‘lack of willpower’ was cited as the most popular response (32%) followed by ’lack of time’ (28%). Other highly rated reasons were ‘Not really interested (22%) and ‘too much effort involved’ (20%), suggesting a motivational push is needed for people to take more personal responsibility for their health.
Healthy lifestyles, including good nutrition and plenty of physical activity have a huge role to play in helping us age well. And reducing the future financial pressures facing the NHS has to be a priority for government in an ageing society.
The earlier we get into healthy habits the better. Most of us seem to know what we should be doing to age well, but too often, the easy choice is the unhealthy one. Government shouldn’t therefore just point the finger at individuals. Public policy too often disincentives healthy behaviour. A mix of “nudging” and indeed “nannying” is probably going to be necessary to help encourage and support us all into healthier lifestyles.
The report also reveals that although smoking declined in the UK over the past couple of decades, it has now plateaued to one in five UK adults. Those aged 25-34 are the most likely to smoke and over-55s reportedly the least likely. Similarly, this younger demographic say they are the heaviest drinkers, with over half of men (52%) aged 25-40+ drinking over 14 units a week, above the NHS recommended drinking targets.
‘Looking good’ and ‘losing weight’ were found to be significant motivators for meeting health targets amongst the under 55s, however reducing the risk of serious illness was the highest driver for over 55s – who appear to have had the most success in following NHS health guidelines. The over 55s were also the group most likely to believe people should take personal responsibility to change unhealthy behaviours such as smoking, drinking or being overweight rather than rely on support from the government (31%).
For the Simplyhealth/YouGov Everyday Health Tracker, YouGov commissioned a survey among its online panel between 8 July –11 July 2016, drawing on a nationally representative sample of 2,009 UK adults aged 18+.
1ONS Research 2016 carried out in February 2016 https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/wellbeing/datasets/measuringnationalwellbeinghappiness
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