People are increasingly beset by illness, perhaps because they take little physical exercise, according to figures for the nation’s lifestyle set out in the General Household Survey.
The survey, published by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys yesterday, punctures a well-tended public belief that private residences are increasingly vulnerable to burglars and discloses that many women deliberately run the risk of unwanted pregnancy by not taking contraceptive precautions.
OPCS notes that what people tell an interviewer about their state of health is not necessarily an index of how ill they really are.
Nonetheless, it records significant recent increases both in people’s perceptions of their state of health and their use of NHS facilities.
Between 1972 and 1980 the number of people reporting a long-standing illness rose from 20 to 29 percent among men and from 21 to 31 percent among women. Further increases came in the 1980s, to 32 percent among men and to 34 percent among women.
Chronic sickness is not just attributable to the ageing of the population. Levels of chronic sickness are considerably higher among old people but the same pattern of increase shows for all age groups.
Meanwhile, the average number of doctor consultations rose. In 1986 the average number of consultations with a GP per person was four for men each year and five for women. Similarly, attendance at out-patient clinics was higher in the late 1970s and early 1980s than in earlier years, although they have remained fairly stable during the 1980s. The average number of in-patient stays in hospital has also been steady during this decade.
Although OPCS does not make a connection those health indices may have a link with figures showing the British to be fairly immobile. Excluding walking, fewer than one in five people took part in an outdoor physical activity in the month before being interviewed for the survey.
If walking (defined as a walk of at least two miles) is included, just under half the population can be said occasionally to take some physical exercise outside the home.
Apart from walking, the most popular outdoor activities are swimming, football, golf and athletics, followed by cycling, fishing and tennis.
Swimming is popular also as an indoor activity, along with darts, keep-fit with yoga, snooker and billiards and squash and badminton.
People tend to do fewer such activities as they get older with the significant exceptions of golf and walking, which show their peak participation among the older age groups.