Premature death rate higher in UK than peer countries

Britons have a higher risk of dying before they reach 60 than people in other developed countries, according to a new study.

Researchers studied mortality data from 187 countries from 1970-2010 to compare the probability of someone dying between the ages of 15 and 60. During this period the average risk across all countries fell by 34% in women and 19% in men.

In the UK, the mortality rate is 58 deaths per 1,000 women (higher only than Denmark and Belgium in western Europe) and 93 per 1,000 men.

The countries with the lowest risk of mortality for men and women are Iceland and Cyprus respectively. The highest risk is seen in Swaziland for men and Zambia for women. This has been linked to the HIV epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa.  

The relatively high mortality rate in the UK may be linked to levels of health inequality. In England, people living in the poorest areas will die, on average, seven years earlier than people living in more affluent neighbourhoods. The average difference in disability-free life expectancy is 17 years.

Eli Friedwald, actuarial research manager at reinsurer RGA, said that understanding about the mortality of the insured population, as opposed to the general population, is a key driver for protection pricing and allows actuaries to price term assurance business at around 40-50% of the general population mortality.

He explained: "RGA employs a team of researchers who continually review mortality and morbidity changes such as these. Our research into England and Wales population mortality shows that there are very wide differentials by region, socio-economic class and deprivation, particularly at younger ages.

"At the regional extremes, mortality in the North East runs at about 50% higher than in the South West. Mortality by socio-economic class shows an even wider variation, with routine manual workers suffering mortality at about three times that of managerial and professional employees. Studies of mortality variation by level of deprivation also indicate that the bottom 10% suffer mortality rates of about three times the top 10%.

"Insurers are particularly interested in those people who buy insurance - these are called the insured population, and this population draws largely from the better off portion of the population. Within the insured population we see a bias to the more prosperous geographical regions, and this, together with the screening out of unhealthy lives in the underwriting process, means that insured lives are an ‘elite' class, from the mortality perspective."

The results of the study are published in The Lancet.

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