The rate at which people are dying in middle age in the UK is among the worst across high-income countries, with younger women particularly at risk.

New research by the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science (LCDS) in Oxford and Princeton University has found that death rates among working-age adults in the UK and the US are higher in comparison to other high-income nations.

In the UK, midlife mortality has increased for people aged between 45 and 54, while death rates for younger adults, aged 25-54, have stalled instead of improved.

In particular, death rates among younger women aged between 25 and 44 were the second-worst behind the US out of all high-income countries by the year 2019.

Professor Jennifer Dowd, lead author and Deputy Director of LCDS and the Demographic Science Unit said: “Our study adds to the evidence that UK mortality is increasingly diverging from its high-income peers, especially for younger women.

“The causes of this worsening health will be important to understand going forward.”

The major study examined trends in midlife mortality for adults aged 25-64 between 1990 and 2019, looking at 15 major causes of death across 18 high-income countries.

These included the US, the UK and seven Central and Eastern European countries.

While the UK fared well in terms of external causes of death, including homicide, road accidents and suicide, this was negated by increasing drug deaths and a plateauing of improvements in cardiovascular disease and cancer.

The study found that over the last 30 years most high-income countries have seen improvements in rates of all-cause mortality.

However, in the US, these improvements have been slower and have been hindered by reversals and stagnation. By 2019, all-cause mortality rates in the US were 2.5 times higher than the average rates across other high-income nations.

The US figures were driven by a number of causes, including drug overdoses. Drug-related mortality increased 10-fold in the nine-year period leading up to 2019.

This was very different picture to other countries.

Corresponding author Dr Katarzyna Doniec, Postdoctoral Researcher at LCDS and the Demographic Science Unit, said: “Over the past three decades midlife mortality in the US has worsened significantly compared to other high-income countries, and for the younger 25 to 44-year-old age-group in 2019 it even surpassed midlife mortality rates for Central and Eastern European countries.

“This is surprising, given that not so long ago some of these countries experienced high levels of working-age mortality, resulting from the post-socialist crisis of the 1990s.”

Read the study in International Journal of Epidemiology.

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