People from deprived areas are more likely to be frail in old age, new study suggests

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People who spend part of their life living in socially deprived areas are more likely to be frail in old age, a new study has suggested.

A new study has found that people living in deprived areas suffer greater frailty later in life, just days after the Government axed a long-promised white paper on health inequalities.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh found that living in deprived areas after the age of 40 leads to greater frailty in men and women, while childhoods spent in disadvantaged areas are also linked to frailty in later life in men.

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The long-term effect that living in deprived neighbourhoods has on frailty - a condition that can make older people feel weak and reduce their ability to recover from illness and injury - was, until now, poorly understood.

The experts said that uncovering the underlying reasons behind frailty could aid the development of measures to better support healthy ageing and reduce inequalities.

The researchers examined data from 323 participants from the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 with information on places where they lived from birth onwards.

People who spend part of their life living in socially deprived areas are more likely to be frail in old age, a new study has suggestedPeople who spend part of their life living in socially deprived areas are more likely to be frail in old age, a new study has suggested
People who spend part of their life living in socially deprived areas are more likely to be frail in old age, a new study has suggested | Adobe

The team used statistical modelling to examine links between neighbourhood social deprivation, frailty and the speed at which people’s health declined, using the deprivation status of participants’ previous home addresses and five measurements of their frailty made between the ages of 70 and 82.

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They found that the more time men spent living in deprived areas during their childhood and mid-to-late adulthood, the greater the chances they would be frail by age 70.

The study - published in the American Journal of Epidemiology and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council - also found that women living in disadvantaged neighbourhoods in mid-to-late adulthood were more likely to become frailer more quickly after the age of 70, compared with women living in more affluent areas.

This comes as health secretary Thérèse Coffey has decided to ditch the Government’s long-promised white paper on health inequalities.

The Guardian recently reported that Ms Coffey decided to not publish a document that was due to set out plans to address the inequalities in health that were exposed by the Covid pandemic.

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The paper was a key part of the then Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s mission to level up Britain and was expected to set out action to narrow the wide inequalities in health that exist between deprived and well-off areas, white and BAME populations, and between the north and south of England.

Dr Gergő Baranyi, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, who led the study into deprived areas and frailty, said: “The United Nations expects that by 2050 the number of older adults will double worldwide and many of them will suffer from age-related conditions, including frailty.

“Identifying aspects of our lives that might slow the decline in health and functioning is crucial, and our research shows that the neighbourhoods where we live are one of these.”

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Professor Jamie Pearce, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, added: “The findings of our research show that the types of places we live throughout our lives impacts on our health much later in life, including our level of frailty in older age.

“Identifying why living in a socially disadvantaged neighbourhood at different points during life translates into worse health outcomes offers an opportunity to enhance healthy ageing and reduce inequalities.”

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