Saturday 26 May 2018

We are living two-and-a-half years longer than we did 10 years ago but lifestyle habits threaten our health

Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

We are now living two-and-a-half years longer than we did a decade ago - mainly due to better survival from heart disease and cancer.

However, many of our health gains are threatened by lifestyle habits - including smoking, drinking, lack of exercise and obesity.

The pluses and minuses of modern life are highlighted in the Department of Health's State of the Nation report for 2015.

Advances in drugs as well as improvement in health services are contributing to our longer lifespans.

The report says that diseases of the circulatory system, including heart attack and stroke, are still the major cause of death, claiming one in three lives.

But even these have fallen in the past decade.

The birth rate is continuing to fall but we still have the highest proportion of children and young people in our population among EU countries.

"Despite reductions in the numbers of births in recent years, the fertility rate in Ireland remains the second highest in the EU behind France. From 2007 to 2012, Ireland's fertility rate was the highest in Europe."

In 2014, counties Kerry and Dublin had the lowest fertility rates.

At the same time, the growth in the number of people aged over 65 is striking and this age group is increasing by 20,000 annually.

"Ireland is now beginning to catch up with other European countries in terms of population ageing," the report said.

"The population of those aged 65 years and over has been increasing at a faster rate than that of our EU neighbours.

"The numbers of people in this age group is expected to almost double in the next 20 years, with the greatest proportional increase in the over-85 year age group," it said.

Although women have a higher life expectancy than men, the overall difference is not significant.

This is because women are living longer but with more health problems, according to the report.

Counties in the west and north-west of Ireland have a greater proportion of people aged 65 and over.

There fewer in-patient hospital beds but more day beds, which means fewer patients need an overnight stay.

Nearly one in five deaths in the under-65 group are due to external causes, such as transport accidents and suicide.

There has been an 8pc decline in the age-standardised death rate for cancer in the last decade and more recently a fall of 2.1pc between 2013 and 2014.

Ireland has had a lower infant death rate than the EU average over the past decade; however, the gap has narrowed in recent years.

The number of admissions to psychiatric hospitals and units has decreased between 2013 and 2014 - overall, they are down by more than 16pc.

A higher proportion of men rather than women are meeting the minimum exercise targets.

But women tend to be better than men at eating at least one serving of fruit or vegetables daily.

Irish Independent

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