The life expectancy gap between England’s most affluent and most deprived sectors of society has widened significantly between 2001 and 2016, particularly among women, according to a new study published in the journal Lancet Public Health.

The researchers from Imperial College London, who say the findings reflect a “deeply worrying” trend, analyzed data from the Office for National Statistics on all deaths recorded in England between 2001 and 2016, 7.65 million deaths in total.

For men, the life expectancy gap between rich and poor went from 9.0 years in 2001 to 9.7 years in 2016, and for women, the gap increased from 6.1 years in 2001 to 7.9 years in 2016.

In 2016, the life expectancy of women in the poorest communities was 78.8 years, compared to 86.7 years in the most affluent group. For men, the life expectancy was 74.0 years among the poorest, compared to 83.8 years among the richest.

The findings also show that the life expectancy of women in the poorest sectors of society has dropped by 0.24 years since 2011.

“Falling life expectancy in the poorest communities is a deeply worrying indicator of the state of our nation’s health, and shows that we are leaving the most vulnerable out of the collective gain,” said Professor Majid Ezzati, senior author of the research from Imperial’s School of Public Health.

“We currently have a perfect storm of factors that can impact on health, and that are leading to poor people dying younger. Working income has stagnated and benefits have been cut, forcing many working families to use food banks. The price of healthy foods like fresh fruit and vegetables has increased relative to unhealthy, processed food, putting them out of the reach of the poorest,” he said.

“The funding squeeze for health and cuts to local government services since 2010 have also had a significant impact on the most deprived communities, leading to treatable diseases such as cancer being diagnosed too late, or people dying sooner from conditions like dementia.”

The researchers also investigated which illnesses are contributing to the widening life expectancy gap. Although they discovered that individuals in the poorest sectors died at a higher rate from all illnesses, a number of diseases showed a particularly stark difference between rich and poor.

Diseases that led to particularly large loss of longevity in the poor were newborn deaths and children’s diseases, respiratory diseases, heart disease, lung and digestive cancers, and dementias. In 2016, children under five years old from the poorest areas in society were 2.5 times as likely to die as children from wealthy families.

“This study suggests the poor in England are dying from diseases that can be prevented and treated,” said Ezzati. “Greater investment in health and social care in the most deprived areas will help reverse the worrying trends seen in our work.”

“We also need government and industry action to eradicate food insecurity and make healthy food choices more affordable, so that the quality of a family’s diet isn’t dictated by their income.”

Source: Imperial College London