Time to put the brakes on liver disease

By Lesley Dobson , Wednesday 21 November 2012

A new report on the state of our health calls for action to ‘stop the rising tide of liver disease.’
Overweight manObesity, among other things, greatly increases the risk of developing liver disease

How is your liver? If you’ve given it little thought lately, here’s a sobering fact from a new report: England is one of the few countries in the EU where liver disease is on the increase. Between 2000 and 2009, deaths in England from chronic liver disease and cirrhosis in the under 65 year olds increased by around 20 percent.

In most EU countries deaths from these conditions fell by the same amount. Just as shocking is the fact that the three major causes of the disease – obesity, undiagnosed hepatitis infection, and, increasingly, harmful drinking – are preventable.

This comes from Dame Sally Davies, England’s Chief Medical Officer’s (CMO), first annual report on the health of the nation. And the need for action to stop ‘the rising tide of liver disease’ is one of the main findings in this comprehensive look at the state of England’s health.

Professor Dame Sally Davies said, “I have done a comprehensive analysis of the state of the country’s health, and found some areas where we are doing really well, and others where there is still a lot of improvement needed.”

“I was struck by the data on liver disease particularly. This is the only major cause of preventable death that is on the increase in England that is generally falling in other comparable European nations. We must act to change this.”

“I strongly believe that data and scientific evidence should be at the heart of policy making and advice to Government and have reflected this in the Annual Report. Data should be used to inform our action on public health and to evaluate the effectiveness of that action.”

I hope the data that I have provided will become a major tool for the Department of Health, Public Health England and local authorities as they draw up their strategies for improving public health.”

Some of the other notable facts about the country’s health to come out of the report include:

  • 727,000 years of life were lost to cancer in those under 75 in 2010, and 20% of these were due to lung cancer – the single largest cause.
  • The people who live the longest spend the shortest amount of time with a limiting long-term illness such as heart disease, diabetes or osteoporosis.
  • Around one third of adults have three or more risk factors, such as high cholesterol, diabetes, or are overweight, which increase their chances of poor health.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates the main risk factors for early death in the UK (below), in order of impact:

  • Tobacco use
  • Harmful alcohol use
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Overweight and obesity
  • Physical inactivity
  • Illicit drug use
  • Low fruit and vegetable intake
  • Occupational risks
  • Unsafe sex

Dame Sally Davies also made a number of recommendations in the report. These include:

  • Nearly 70 percent of us have two or more habits or medical risk factors that are linked with life limiting diseases. Examples include smoking, harmful alcohol use, and not eating enough fruit and vegetables. The report recommends that health professionals should tackle these together, rather than separately.
  • Giving better access to diabetes care – only half of those registered as diabetic receive the annual checks recommended by NICE.
  • Non-fatal diseases can impose a great burden on both the individual and the NHS. Public Health England should ensure that our capacity to capture data on long term conditions such as loss of hearing, back pain, incontinency and dementia is as strong as current surveillance on the causes of early death.

If you have any concerns about your health, talk to your GP.

The second part of the report will be published in the New Year.

Useful facts


Recommended daily limits for alcohol consumption:

  • No more than three to four units a day for men
  • No more than two to three units a day for women
  • Some alcohol-free days each week

A unit of alcohol is equivalent to roughly half a pint of normal strength lager, a small glass of wine, or one measure (25ml) of spirits.


Check your weight with a BMI healthy weight calculator http://www.nhs.uk/Tools/Pages/Healthyweightcalculator.aspx or ask your GP.

Useful websites

British Heart Foundation - www.bhf.org.uk

British Liver Trust - www.britishlivertrust.org.uk

Cancer Research UK - www.cancerresearchuk.org

Diabetes UK - www.diabetes.org.uk

NHS Choices - www.nhs.uk

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.


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