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New data tool opens up England’s changing health over the past 25 years

Posted on 14 June 2017 by Anne Conolly, Research Director .

Every year since 1991, thousands of adults and children across the country have participated in the Health Survey for England. The information they provide gives us a snap shot of the nation’s health, year after year.

This week we launched an online tool which allows users to interact with and explore England’s health trends and changing lifestyles over the last quarter of a century. Although the data tables are always made publicly available, this is the first time that this information has been available at a glance. The tool includes trends across seven key health and lifestyle indicators: weight, smoking, drinking, fruit and vegetable consumption, high blood pressure, diabetes and general health.

The Health Survey for England is distinctive, in that NatCen’s interviewers and nurses don’t just ask people about their health and lifestyles, they also collect objective measures of health.

Objective height and weight measurements allow us to accurately identify the prevalence of overweight and obesity, which can be tracked over time. Since we started taking these measurements in 1993 we’ve observed an increase in overweight and obesity rates. The most recent data shows that 63% of adults in England were either overweight or obese. 

Adults overweight or obesity

A trend that might be less generally well known is that since 2003 the rate of untreated high blood pressure has decreased, while controlled high blood pressure has increased. With participant’s agreement we take blood pressure readings and, as a result, found that some people didn’t know they had high blood pressure – a condition that is strongly associated with an increased risk of stroke and heart disease. Doctors now check blood pressure more regularly, and offer more people medication to control the condition.   

Untreated blood pressure 

The tool allows users to explore data for adults and children and to look at the breakdown for different age groups and for male and female. It also flags when major health policies or legislations came into effect to provide helpful context.

Ultimately we hope the tool will make viewing the changes in our health and lifestyles more accessible to more people.

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