CHARLES GRAHAM - The truth behind our shorter life spans

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NEVER mind the north-south divide, what about the rich-poor one?

I already had it in my head that people in the more affluent areas of Wigan would generally outlive those in the poorest.

But I did not imagine that the difference would be a colossal 11 years.

Yet those are the latest figures presented by council and health chiefs as they draw up a plan identifying the major issues that so reduce some people’s life expectancy.

In 2012 the average British person can expect to live to just over 80 (for men the average is 78, women 82). But in Wigan borough we fall short of that national average by a whole two years. Just think of all the things you could get done in that time.

And the discrepancies between the country’s mean and those in our most deprived areas are even more marked.

Obesity, smoking and diet have been identified as particular problems skewing those figures in the poorer parts.

I would add that there is likely to be more people working in tough, manual yet low-paid jobs with height risk of injury and industrial disease in the more deprived areas.

So too a greater prevalence of drugs (there are unquestionably more fatal overdoses in deprived areas) which also play a significant role in eroding life expectancy.

Regardless of the mortality gap surprise, the issues behind it are not new ones and therefore not easy to tackle.

Education is one of the tools both for teaching people of all ages to keep away from illegal substances, drink in moderation and eat healthily; but many folk are stuck in a rut-like mind-set.

One is that junk food is cheaper than cooking from fresh.

Another is that alcohol in copious quantities is unavoidable if you want to have a good time.

And despite great headway being made, one in five Wiganers still smoke. But I won’t get started on that one again.

Ultimately though we are often the masters of our own destiny. There are folk who live to 100 after a life of brisk walks, celery sticks and abstention from all “vices” who can be quite miserable souls; and some very happy people who have had a foreshortened but enjoyably excessive life. (And vice versa of course).

The monastic or hedonistic existence: the choice is yours.