Nine in ten British adults have at least one unhealthy trait linked to an early death

Almost 90 per cent of adults in England have an unhealthy lifestyle which increases their chances of an early grave. 

An annual survey by the NHS shows just 13 per cent of adults are managing to avoid seriously harming their health.

In comparison, 19 per cent of adults are thought to have more than three unhealthy traits proven to shave years off of their life.

Experts have today branded the figures as ‘alarming’. 

Nine in every 10 people in England have a trait or habit which makes them more likely to die young, such as smoking, drinking, not exercising or eating healthily, or being obese, according to an NHS survey

Nine in every 10 people in England have a trait or habit which makes them more likely to die young, such as smoking, drinking, not exercising or eating healthily, or being obese, according to an NHS survey

Nine in every 10 people in England have a trait or habit which makes them more likely to die young, such as smoking, drinking, not exercising or eating healthily, or being obese, according to an NHS survey

The NHS measured health based on whether people smoke, drink too much alcohol, eat enough fruit and vegetables, are obese, and do enough exercise. 

The Health Survey for England 2017, published today by the NHS, laid bare exactly how unhealthy adults in the country are.

Information was gathered on 8,000 adults and 2,000 children by the survey and a nurse visit, where various measurements were taken. 

This included blood sugar level measurement which suggested that 20 per cent of adults with diabetes are undiagnosed.   

Fewer than one in seven people manage to avoid all five of the dangerous habits, according to the poll.

A huge 87 per cent of people either smoke, drink too much, are obese, don’t exercise enough or don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables.   

Some 36 per cent of people had just one of the five risk factors, whereas 32 per cent had two and 19 per cent had three or more.

‘Unhealthy choices increase the likelihood of developing cancer,’ said Susannah Brown, senior scientist at World Cancer Research Fund.

‘So it is worrying to see that over half of adults have two or more of these risk factors, especially as we know that around 40 per cent of cancer cases are preventable. 

‘After not smoking, eating a healthy diet, being more active each day and maintaining a healthy weight are the most important ways you can reduce your cancer risk. 

‘The responsibility to live healthily does not lie solely with individuals – a whole-of-government, whole-of-society approach is necessary to create environments for people and communities that are conducive to healthy living.’ 


A ten-point ‘blueprint to beat cancer’ can cut the chance of getting the disease by up to 40 per cent, experts revealed at the European Congress on Obesity in Vienna in May. 

In the biggest analysis of its kind, experts warned junk food, ready meals and red meat should be eaten only in moderation in favour of a diet that is rich in wholegrains, fruit and vegetables. 

The World Cancer Research Fund’s recommendations are based on analysis of research involving 51 million people and 17 types of cancer. 

Dr Giota Mitrou, from the WCRF said: ‘Individuals need to follow as many of these recommendations as possible, not just some of them.’  

The researchers’ ten-point plan included:

  1. Keep a healthy weight
  2. Be physically active – walk more, do gardening and household chores
  3. Eat five portions of fruit and veg a day, particularly green leafy vegetables like broccoli
  4. Cut town on fast foods and other processed foods such as pre-prepared snacks and sweets
  5. Eat no more than three portions of red meat such as beef, pork and lamb, a week
  6. Drink mostly water and unsweetened drinks; avoid fruit juice
  7. Do not drink alcohol
  8. Avoid dietary supplements – aim to meet nutritional needs through diet alone
  9. Breastfeed your baby
  10. Continue to follow the above recommendations after cancer diagnosis, after checking with a health professional

Men are more likely (54 per cent) than women (47 per cent) to have two or more of the risk factors. 

And adults in the lowest income households were twice as likely as those in highest income households to have three or more risk factors. 

In an analysis of the full report, it was shown that the majority of people don’t get the recommended five-a-day, with only 29 per cent of adults consuming five or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Just 18 per cent of two to 15-year-old children are reaching the daily health target. 

Alcohol consumption is dangerously high in men, with them drinking 15 units a week on average in 2017, exceeding the recommended limit of 14 units. 

On the other hand, female drinkers consumed an average of 8.6 units. 

Almost two thirds of adults (64 per cent) are overweight or obese, the NHS figures show. This includes the five per cent of women and two per cent of men who are morbidly obese – meaning their height-to-weight ratio (BMI) is almost twice as high as is considered medically healthy.

In 1993, when the survey began, just one per cent of women were classed as morbidly obese. It reached five per cent for the first time in 2017.  

Meanwhile, the survey also revealed how children whose parents are obese are also more likely to be obese themselves. 

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said this was a ‘a cycle of life that can have terrible consequences to the health of entire families for generations’. 

More than a quarter (28 per cent) of children of an obese mother were also obese, compared with eight per cent of children whose mother was not overweight or obese.

And 24 per cent of children of an obese father were also obese, compared with nine per cent of children where the father was not overweight or obese. 

Overall, three in 10 children aged two to 15 in England were overweight or obese in 2017. 

The British Heart Foundation’s John Maingay said: ‘These alarming figures suggest we could be storing up a future of health problems for future generations unless we act now. 

‘Obese children are more likely to be obese adults and this, coupled with spiralling diabetes rates, could lead to thousands more people suffering heart attacks and strokes in the coming years.

‘Action needs to be taken today to curb obesity, or it will present a formidable challenge to the NHS for years to come.’

The 2017 survey also revealed a high rate of people who have undiagnosed diabetes. 

Meanwhile, the proportion of adults with diagnosed diabetes increased between 1994 and 2017, from three per cent to eight per cent among men. It jumped from two per cent to five per cent among women. 

The survey also found more than a third (34 per cent) of adults said they were living in chronic pain.   

And 23 per cent of men and 28 per cent of women aged 65 and over need help with at least one day-to-day activity.

This includes washing, going to the toilet, getting up and down stairs or in and out of bed, eating or taking medicine.

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