“Midlife health in British adults is declining,” warned one expert. (Stock, Getty Images)
A third of middle-aged adults in the UK have multiple chronic health problems, according to research.
University College London (UCL) scientists analyzed nearly 8,000 adults born in 1970, called Generation X.
Among 46- to 48-year-olds, 33% had two or more health conditions – including recurring back pain, high blood pressure, mental disorders, diabetes and high-risk alcohol consumption.
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Findings, published in the journal BMC Public Health, also show that those born into the most deprived families were at higher risk of several health ailments in mid-life.
Amid calls for policy changes to protect the most vulnerable, an expert warned that “midlife health in British adults is in decline”.
High blood pressure increases a person’s risk of having a heart attack or stroke. (Stock, Getty Images)
“This study provides new insights into the state of health in the country at mid-life,” said lead author Dr. Dawid Gondek.
“It shows that by their late forties, a significant portion of the population suffers from multiple long-term physical and mental health problems.
“Compared to previous generations, British adults appear to be in decline in mid-life health.”
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The UCL scientists analyzed more than 7,900 people who were born the same week in 1970 and have since participated in the UK cohort study.
When they were in their mid to late forties, the participants’ blood pressure and diabetes status were measured. The questionnaires also showed whether they had a range of chronic physical or mental health conditions.
The results show that 33% of the participants had multiple chronic health problems.
Just over a quarter (26%) of participants were affected by high-risk alcohol consumption, while around one in five (21%) had recurrent back problems or mental health problems (19%).
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Almost every sixth (16%) had high blood pressure, 12% reported either asthma or bronchitis. Arthritis and diabetes affected 8% and 5% of the participants, respectively.
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The most common combinations were psychological problems with high blood pressure, asthma, or arthritis.
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In a second part of the experiment, the researchers found that participants who were born in the poorest families – defined as fathers from an “unskilled social class” – were 43% more likely to experience several long-term health problems in mid-life.
This is compared to those from the most privileged circumstances with a father from a professional class.
Participants with the most deprived childhoods were nearly 3.5 times more likely to develop mental health problems later, especially arthritis, while their risk of both impaired emotional well-being and high blood pressure tripled.
Low birth weight was also identified as a risk factor, with each additional kilogram (2.2 pounds) in newborns being associated with a 10% lower chance of having multiple middle-aged morbidities.
Obesity or obesity has been found to increase risk by the age of 10, with every one point decrease in body mass index being associated with a 3% decrease in risk decades later.
Poor cognitive skills at age 10 or “emotional and behavioral problems” at age 16 have also been linked to several middle-aged morbidities.
While it is unclear why this happens, experiencing challenges during “critical” periods of early life can affect a person’s hormone levels or “internal stress” and affect their health across the board.
“Early cognitive and social disorders can increase the risk of harmful behaviors such as smoking or alcohol consumption, which are considered coping mechanisms and lead to further damage,” the scientists write.
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“As previous studies have found links between poor adult health and lower life satisfaction, lower income and early retirement, public health advice should focus on helping populations improve their mid-life health so they can do better age, remain economically active and continue to fulfill. ” is alive, “said Dr. Gondek.
Co-author Professor George Ploubidis agreed, adding, “If these links reflect causal effects, policies and practices targeting these core areas in childhood and adolescence can improve the health of future generations and reduce potential pressures on the NHS . “
The scientists have emphasized that their study was an observation and therefore cannot prove cause and effect. Still, detailed data enabled the team to consider a number of factors that can influence the relationship between a person’s early life and mid-life health.