We all like to think that we live in a healthy environment. While some aspects of our health are carried with us wherever we go, and others are matters of personal choice, the area you live in does have a significant impact on the likelihood of you becoming ill or living a long and healthy life. Factors like housing, amenities, access to good quality health care and environmental pollution mean that live expectancy and quality of life can vary dramatically from one part of the UK to the next, and even between different districts of the same town.
A genetic predisposition to certain conditions can be hereditary, and for long-standing local families this can be linked to location. It’s unsurprising that areas where poverty and social deprivation are rife also have the worst health. Your occupation can also affect your health, and certain jobs are often associated with certain areas; for instance, farming areas or towns where one large company is the predominant employer.
With this in mind, the good news is that Wiltshire is in the top 25% of UK regions when it comes to quality of life and health. According to the Wiltshire Health and Wellbeing Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA) for 2017/18, “The health of those in Wiltshire is generally very good compared to the national average.” People in the county live longer and stay healthier for longer, on average, than the UK norm. They also are generally in better shape and are looking after themselves better.
The report did highlight some points of concern however, such as the significant gap in health expectations between the poorest and the richest communities in Wiltshire. Although the county is generally prosperous, it does contain some urban areas where quality of life and health is among the lowest in England. Furthermore the county is not immune to the rapid rise in obesity nationwide, and this is something that needs to be addressed on a local level as well as across the country.
65.8% of Wiltshire adults are overweight, slightly higher than the national average. 29.1% of Year 6 pupils in Wiltshire schools are considered to be overweight, but this figure has not risen since 2012/13 and is considerably better than the national average of 34.2%. Wiltshire Council runs a number of weight management programs including Healthy Me, aimed at children aged 7-11, and a referral program for adults whose GP is concerned about their weight. The county also has several local franchises for the One to One diet, where the low-calorie Cambridge Diet is combined with personal mentoring to help with effective, long-term weight loss.
Mental health in the county has also been singled out as an area of concern, especially among the young. Nearly one in three Sixth Form and Further Education pupils reported low or very low mental wellbeing. This has been linked with the high rate of injury among 15-24 year olds, including a particularly high level of intentional injury (self-harm).
Wiltshire has an aging population, with 21% aged 65 or older. This demographic is set to increase by 41% by 2030. While there are many ways for older people to stay healthy, this will still mean increased pressure on local health and social care providers, and service priorities may need to be reorganised to address this.
The average life expectancy in Wiltshire is 80.8 years for men and 84 for women, with a healthy life expectancy of 64.8 and 66.8 years respectively. However, for those living in the most deprived areas of the county, overall life expectancy is reduced by nearly two years for women and nearly three years for men. The healthy life expectancy for both is not much more than 56 years.
It’s estimated that 4% of people in Wiltshire live in areas that are among the most deprived in England. These are mostly districts of Trowbridge, Salisbury, Chippenham and Melksham.
Overall Wiltshire is fairly typical of the current state of personal health in the UK, and in many ways it is better than most places in this regard. People in Wiltshire may expect to live a year longer than average, and more people live healthy lifestyles and take up vaccination than elsewhere. But this is not uniform, and the disparity between different classes of people in terms of health needs to be addressed before it widens still further.
The rise in obesity, injuries to the young and alcohol-related hospital admissions can all be seen as warning signs that Wiltshire must remain vigilant when it comes to health and looking out for the more vulnerable members of our communities.