Originally published: March 2019

A new study, published by the Nuffield Trust in collaboration with The Association for Young People’s Health, has found that the UK has the fourth highest asthma death rate for people aged between 10–24 among the 19 high-income countries examined.

Only New Zealand, the US and Australia had a higher death rate than the UK, and the UK was highest of all 15 European countries included in the study.

The mortality rate in Ireland was the second highest in Europe, but it was less than half that of the UK.

The researchers analysed the data from 17 health indicators of young people aged 10–24 in the UK, and these were compared with their counterparts in 18 other similar high-income countries, including Germany, France and Italy, as well as Japan, the US and Australia.

Overall, the UK was shown to be falling far behind on many indicators, including obesity, the burden of chronic illnesses and exercise levels.

“Getting it wrong”

“Young people in the UK are entering adulthood with more long-term health conditions and as a result a poorer quality of life, storing up problems further down the line. If we don’t take action now, the next generation will be entering adulthood sicker than the one before it” said Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust. He said that health services in the UK were “getting something badly wrong”.

Given that most asthma deaths are preventable, Dr Samantha Walker, director of research and policy at Asthma UK, suggested that a “lack of basic asthma care, difficulty in getting a GP appointment and complacency around asthma could all be to blame”. Most concerningly, gradual improvements in the management of asthma, seen over the last decade, seem to have plateaued in recent years.

“This study should shake us from complacency and realise that asthma is a significant problem which is leading to premature loss of life. There is an urgent need to review the treatment approaches to asthma in our younger patients and ensure they are optimally managed. This includes the correct diagnosis, the correct treatment, being taken effectively at the right times.”

Dr Richard Russell, Clinical Director of the Respiratory Network of the Oxford Academic Health Science Network (AHSN)

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