With the time for New Year’s resolutions uncomfortably close, latest data from a huge nationwide study shows that obesity is up, as is drinking by women. We are also getting more depressed and anxious and taking more drugs, and the poorer we are, the more likely it is we will smoke and not exercise or eat healthily.
The research involved thousands of Britons who have been tracked in three major studies since they were born in 1946, 1958 or 1970. A fourth project, funded by the ESRC and a consortium of government departments, is now following the lives of nearly 19,000 children born in the UK between late-2000 and early-2002.
Researchers found that we are getting taller, but also much bigger around the waist. Men born in 1970 had an average height of 179 cm in their 30s compared with 175 cm if born 24 years earlier. Women were 164 cm on average compared with 162 cm.
However, 12 per cent of men and 11 per cent of women born in 1970 were obese by the time they reached their 20s, whereas only five per cent of men and seven per cent of women born in 1946 were vastly overweight at the same age.
Numbers of women drinking alcohol almost doubled in the 1990s, with those in top jobs and with highest qualifications quaffing most. Meanwhile men are drinking less as they get older.
People saying they had asthma in their 30s jumped from three per cent of men and women born in 1946 to eight per cent of men and 10 per cent of women born in 1958. And the figures were 13 per cent for men and 14 per cent for women born in 1970.
Modern mothers are less likely to breast feed their children, says the report entitled ‘Changing Britain, Changing Lives’ produced by the Institute of Education, which is responsible for three of the year group studies. Information on those born in 1946 is gathered by University College, London.
Health experts say breast feeding helps protect children from developing allergies, which are now on the increase. The report found that 62 per cent of people born in 1946 had breast feeding for a month or more, whilst 62 per cent of those born in 1970 had none at all.
Fewer born in 1958 and 1970 smoked in their 30s than those from1946, but the number of men smokers had not dropped a lot.
Better educated people are less likely to smoke – 47 per cent of men born in 1970 who had no qualifications were smokers compared with just 20 per cent of those who went to university.
Studies of people born in 1958 show that children of women who smoke during pregnancy are at greater risk of becoming obese and of developing type Two diabetes.
Twenty per cent of women born in 1970 said they suffered from depression or anxiety in their 30s, compared with only 12 per cent from 1958. Men claiming to be depressed doubled to 14 per cent of 1970 babies as compared with the 1958 group.
Hardly anyone born in 1946 took drugs for pleasure – they were not easily available. In 2000, 64 per cent of men born in 1970 claimed experience, including using cannabis, compared with 40 per cent from 1958. And 45 per cent of women born in 1970 took drugs or had experimented, compared with 26 per cent.