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Journal Article

Post-war (1946-2017) population health change in the United Kingdom: a systematic review


Publication date

03 Jul 2019


We systematically reviewed the evidence on secular trends in main chronic conditions, disability and self-assessed general health among adults in the United Kingdom, as reported in primary/secondary care databases and population-based surveys. Searches were conducted separately for: (1) trends in age-standardised or age-specific prevalence of major non-communicable diseases, disability, and self-reported general health; (2) trends in health expectancy. The databases searched were MEDLINE, EMBASE/EMBASE Classic and Web of Science (all from 1946/7). The evidence was synthesised narratively. There were 39 studies reporting trends in prevalence of health conditions and 15 studies in health expectancy. We did not find evidence for improvement in the age-standardised or age-specific prevalence of any of the studied major chronic conditions over the last few decades, apart from Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. Both increasing or stable prevalence rates with simultaneous rising life expectancy support the expansion of morbidity theory, meaning that people are expected to spend a greater number of years with chronic condition(s). The evidence on disability—expressed as prevalence or health expectancy—was mixed, but also appeared to support the expansion of morbidity among those aged 65 or over. The evidence on trends in disability for younger age is lacking. Across the studied period (1946–2017), the UK population endured more years with chronic morbidity and disability, which may place a serious strain on the health care system, the economy and the society.

Published in






Demography, Health, and Life Course Analysis


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