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North-South mortality divide widening, warn researchers

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There has been an “alarming” increase in the number of early deaths among younger adults in the North of England, widening an enduring gulf between North and South, reveals new research.

A study by researchers from Manchester and York, published in the Journal of Epidemiology, found a steady rise in mortality among people aged 25 to 44 in the North of England since the mid-1990s.

The disparity comes on top of a North-South divide in lifespan, which has persisted for more than 50 years and adds up to 1.2 million “excess” early deaths in the North over that time period, according to the study.

The research, led by the University of Manchester, set out to examine long-term trends in premature deaths in northern and southern England and assess the impact of the “great recession” in 2008-09.

They analysed data on all registered deaths and population estimates from 1965 to 2015 for the whole of England, and by region.

Rates of premature deaths – people dying before the age of 75 – fell across the country for most of that time – between 1965 and 2010 – before levelling out.

Early deaths remained more likely in the North for most age groups across the entire 50 years, with the gap staying fairly consistent.

However, researchers identified a startling difference in death rates among young and middle-aged people in the North and South in more recent years – between 1995 and 2015.

During this period, “excess” deaths in the North increased from 2.2% to 29.3% among 25- to 34-year-olds and from 3.3% to 49.4% among 35- to 44-year-olds.

This trend was caused by northern mortality rates for those aged 25 to 34 increased and mortality rates among 35- to 44-year-olds plateauing from the mid-1990s, while southern mortality rates mainly declined.

It occurred despite the fact the economic climate in the mid-1990s was relatively good and there were a range of government policies designed to reduce health inequalities, noted out the researchers.

They said their findings highlighted “profound and worsening structural inequality” and a “persistent health divide” between North and South.

Effective policies to reduce the gap “may require substantial social and economic changes, including a rebalancing of the economy between North and South England that is proportionate to the scale of the problem”, they concluded.

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