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Public health in the context of the 100 year life

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It’s a significant public health triumph that life expectancy has consistently improved over the last 20 years and children born today will live about five years longer than their counterparts born two decades ago.

In 2013 it was estimated that at least a third of babies born that year would reach their hundredth birthday, and that 8% of men and 14% of women aged 65 will get to the same landmark.

In their book ‘The 100 year Life’, Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott explore the implications of this significant shift in life expectancy.

If we live to 100 years it requires a very different set of social, financial and personal norms in order for us to remain independent into later life.

For example, it’s likely that the traditional three stage life of education, followed by employment, and then retirement, will evolve into people coming in and out of education and changing professions throughout their lives.

For parents today, the 100 year life presents a real question about how to support their children to give them the best foundations.

Both for ourselves and our children, we all wish to reach old age remaining in our own house or flat, with our loved ones, participating in society and being able to do our own shopping and having the financial resources to be able to have real choices.

At the most basic level we want to be able to choose what to wear, spend time with friends and family and be able to get to the toilet in time.

But achieving this is reliant on maintaining and investing in physical and mental health as well as financial security.

And with increasing age there is an increasing burden of ill health, most of which is potentially preventable.

And although it is a bit like pension saving (in that the earlier you adopt healthy behaviours the bigger the impact) it really is never too late to start.

Increasingly we understand that investing in our own personal health, and the health of our children (eating more healthily, getting active every day and building social and learning connections) pays back in both the short and long term.

Even the risk of conditions like dementia and many cancers can be significantly reduced through stopping smoking, increasing physical activity and improving diet.

So for public health, the 100 year life presents challenges and opportunities.

As more of the population live longer into old age the potential burden on public sector services like the NHS and social care could become un-affordable and unsustainable unless we are effective in our efforts to promote prevention of ill-health.

This means talking direct to people; national campaigns and programmes like Healthy Start, Change4Life and OneYou can help individuals on their journey towards a healthier longer life.

And working with professionals; interconnected national frameworks and government strategies like Everybody Active, Every Day,  Sporting Future and Active Nation can support locally-led whole system approaches which integrate prevention at scale and pace into local communities.

NHS sustainability and transformation plans also offer an opportunity to embed prevention into primary and secondary care pathways.

Embedding prevention in healthcare involves professionals making every contact count and integrating brief advice into routine consultations and engagement. Resources such as All Our Health and Healthy Living Pharmacy can support this at a local level.

Ultimately we all make these lifestyle decisions as individuals but perhaps the prospect of living for 100 years provides a new incentive to invest in our own health to achieve an old age that’s worth living for.

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