Background: Life expectancy inequalities in England have increased steadily since the 1980s. Our aim was to investigate how much deaths from different diseases and injuries and at different ages have contributed to this rise to inform policies that aim to reduce health inequalities.
Methods: We used vital registration data from the Office for National Statistics on population and deaths in England, by underlying cause of death, from 2001 to 2016, stratified by sex, 5-year age group, and decile of the Index of Multiple Deprivation (based on the ranked scores of Lower Super Output Areas in England in 2015). We grouped the 7·65 million deaths by their assigned International Classification of Diseases (10th revision) codes to create categories of public health and clinical relevance. We used a Bayesian hierarchical model to obtain robust estimates of cause-specific death rates by sex, age group, year, and deprivation decile. We calculated life expectancy at birth by decile of deprivation and year using life-table methods. We calculated the contributions of deaths from each disease and injury, in each 5-year age group, to the life expectancy gap between the most deprived and affluent deciles using Arriaga's method.
Findings: The life expectancy gap between the most affluent and most deprived deciles increased from 6·1 years (95% credible interval 5·9-6·2) in 2001 to 7·9 years (7·7-8·1) in 2016 in females and from 9·0 years (8·8-9·2) to 9·7 years (9·6-9·9) in males. Since 2011, the rise in female life expectancy has stalled in the third, fourth, and fifth most deprived deciles and has reversed in the two most deprived deciles, declining by 0·24 years (0·10-0·37) in the most deprived and 0·16 years (0·02-0·29) in the second-most deprived by 2016. Death rates from every disease and at every age were higher in deprived areas than in affluent ones in 2016. The largest contributors to life expectancy inequalities were deaths in children younger than 5 years (mostly neonatal deaths), respiratory diseases, ischaemic heart disease, and lung and digestive cancers in working ages, and dementias in older ages. From 2001 to 2016, the contributions to inequalities declined for deaths in children younger than 5 years, ischaemic heart disease (for both sexes), and stroke and intentional injuries (for men), but increased for most other causes.
Interpretation: Recent trends in life expectancy in England have not only resulted in widened inequalities but the most deprived communities are now seeing no life expectancy gain. These inequalities are driven by a diverse group of diseases that can be effectively prevented and treated. Adoption of the principle of proportionate universalism to prevention and health and social care can postpone deaths into older ages for all communities and reduce life expectancy inequalities.
Funding: Wellcome Trust.
Copyright © 2018 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an Open Access article under the CC BY 4.0 license. Published by Elsevier Ltd.. All rights reserved.