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Wednesday 26th June 2019

Health crisis for Britain's middle-aged

5th September 2011
  • British middle-aged fare worst in the world for health
  • 45-54 year olds suffer worse physical and mental health than all other generations

Middle-aged Britons are experiencing a mid-life health crisis, according to new research from Bupa, which shows that those aged 45-54 are more likely to be obese, more likely to smoke and more likely to suffer from depression than their peers around the world.

The international Bupa Health Pulse study, which asked more than 13,000 people in 12 different countries questions about their health and lifestyles has shown that late-middle age is the toughest time health-wise for Britons. No other country in the survey - which included Europe, the Americas, the Middle East, Asia and Australasia showed such a consistent range of unhealthy results for this age group1.

The study, which questioned more than 2,000 people in the UK, found:

  • Obesity: Over a third (35%) of British 45-54 year olds are obese - double the international average for this age group (17%).2
  • Smoking: A quarter (24%) of 45-54 year old smokers get through 10 or more cigarettes a day compared with  an international average of 18 percent.3
  • Depression: Over a quarter (27%) of those polled in this age group say they suffer from depression compared with just 17 per cent internationally.
  • Negative outlook: Nearly half of British 45-54 year olds (45%) say they feel negative about their financial situation, 30 per cent feel negative about their career and 21 per cent feel negative about life in general - all higher than the international average.4

Dr Sneh Khemka, medical director, Bupa International, said:

"The Bupa Health Pulse survey makes alarming reading for a generation of Britons. The research reveals not only that Britain's middle-aged are suffering from a health crisis, but also that the problem is particularly apparent in Britain. People hitting 45 often find the unhealthy excesses of their youth are catching up with them just at the time when their financial and personal responsibilities are growing and they are increasingly time poor. These combined elements mean that, for this age group, health can fall down their list of priorities. Fortunately however, there are no medical reasons why middle aged Britons should fare worse for health than other age groups, or their peers around world - so it's possible to tackle this trend. While Bupa's research shows that no one country in the world has the perfect formula for good health, the fact that this middle aged health crisis is a UK dominant problem, demonstrates that there is much we can and must learn from other countries."
Bupa recommends the following:

  • Be more self-aware. Britons need to face the reality of their poor health. In the UK, where we have an obesity problem, more people are overweight than think they are. In Asian countries, including Thailand, China and Hong Kong where they predominately have a healthy BMI, more people think they're overweight than those who actually are.5
  • Reprioritise. Britons need to achieve a better work/life balance and to appreciate that emotional health is intrinsically linked to good health. Latin American countries are the most upbeat and positive about life, their health and the future. In the UK, we could learn from Mexico and Brazil where they have stronger emphasis on social life, and prioritise family and friends.6
  • Challenge the status quo. Britons should challenge their social norms. In India where people's social lives predominately revolve around family activities, very few people drink alcohol. In the UK, where more people drink than in any other country, people's social lives often revolve around the local pub.  We have room to be more inventive with what we do socially, and come up with healthier alternatives.7
  • Look East for nutritional inspiration. Britons could do with taking a good look at their diet and take inspiration from other countries. In Asia, where rates of obesity are much lower than in the UK, they have much less salt, saturated fat and sugar in their diets than in Western countries.  They also eat more vegetables and fruit.  It is often easier than it seems to experiment with your diet.


  • Bupa Health Pulse 2011 Research Ipsos MORI interviewed 13,373 members of the General Public across 12 countries between 22nd April and 23rd May 2011. These were: Australia, Brazil, China, Hong Kong, India, Mexico, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Thailand, UK and US.
  • 45-54 year olds in the following countries are all more likely than Brits in the same age group to be obese: Australia (40%), Saudi Arabia (48%) and the US (49%). However, it is only in the UK that the 45-54 year old age group demonstrates consistent problems across a range of health issues. 
  • The national average of those who smoke 10 or more cigarettes a day in the UK is 16%.
  • The international average for those feeling negative about their financial situation is 28%, negative about their careers 18%, and negative about life in general is 13%.  
  • 40%of British survey respondents think they are overweight, but BMI figures show that in fact 59% are. This contrasts with Hong Kong where 36% think they are overweight while just 28% are, and China where 25% think they are overweight but just 21% are.
  • 48%of Brits say they feel positive about life in general, compared with 64%of Brazilians and 73%of Mexicans - who top the table. Mexicans and Brazilians also feel far more positive about their health than Brits - 71% and 63% respectively compared with 44% for the UK. Mexicans and Brazilians feel even more positive about their careers - 55% and 47% respectively feel positive compared with just 20% in Britain.
  • In Britain 82% of people say they drink alcohol (Britons top the table) compared with just 23%in India. 28%of Brits drink alcohol 'a few times a week' compared with just 2%of Indians. The international average is 13%.
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