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December 2018

Respiratory death rates higher in UK

Death rates from respiratory illnesses are higher in the UK than similar countries in Europe, North America and Australia, according to a new study.

Respiratory illnesses such as obstructive lung conditions like COPD and infections like pneumonia are common causes of death, but death rates can be reduced through effective healthcare interventions.

Death rates have been coming down in all countries, but the authors wanted to look at whether the gap had closed between the UK and similar countries, particularly those in the European Union.

In the UK, deaths fell from 151 to 89 per 100,000 in men and changed from 67 to 68 per 100,000 in women. In comparison countries, death rates fell from 108 to 69 per 100,000 in men and changed from 35 to 37 per 100,000 in women.

The international research team, led by Justin Salciccioli at Harvard Medical School, extracted data on death rates for respiratory illnesses from the World Health Organization (WHO) Mortality Database for the countries of interest.

UK data were compared with data from other EU countries, and data from Australia, Canada, United States, and Norway.

In the UK, death rates were higher than in the other countries for all respiratory conditions assessed except for lung cancer.

Between 1985 and 2015 death rates from respiratory conditions decreased for men and remained relatively static for women in both the UK and the comparison countries. However, death rates remained higher in the UK. Previously higher UK death rates from respiratory conditions have been attributed to the UK’s higher smoking rates, but smoking levels have decreased since the 1970s.

It is now thought that pollution may be a contributing factor as the UK has a higher rate of deaths attributable to air pollution than most of the comparator countries.

Salciccioli JD, et al. BMJ 2018;363:k4680