AN 18-year gap in healthy life expectancy between Gwent's most affluent and deprived areas should "appal us all in this day and age", Torfaen's council leader told a conference on the issue today.

But Anthony Hunt said too, that tackling inequalities in health is a task for everyone - from public, private, and charitable sectors, to people as individuals - and it must cross political boundaries.

He was among more than 200 participants in a Building A Healthier Gwent conference in Newport, which brought together experts from broad range of sectors - including health, local government, housing, the police, and the environment - to discuss how improving health and reducing health inequalities can be done.


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The conference follows the publication in the summer of the annual report - also called Building A Healthier Gwent - of Dr Sarah Aitken, Aneurin Bevan University Health Board's director of public health and strategic partnerships.

She wanted to start a conversation with people who live and work in Gwent about what they think needs to be done to achieve that ambition.

A survey on the issue has attracted more than 1,300 responses, comprising online and face-to-face through a series of engagement events across the area.

The prevention of mental illness and cancers were the top two priorities for respondents in terms of tackling the major causes of years lived in ill health.

And the need for good healthcare services emerged as the top priority for respondents if the ambition of making it easier for people in Gwent to live more of their lives in good health through the places we live, work, learn and play, is to be achieved by the target date of 2030.

Also considered vital is the need for people to feel connected to others, with good education and transport also scoring highly.

The survey also asked participants to name one thing that individuals should focus on to achieve the ambition by 2030, and good mental health came out on top, followed by regular physical activity, then a healthy diet, then a healthy weight.


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Men living in Gwent's least deprived areas currently live an average 88 per cent of their lives in good health - compared with 76 per cent for those in the most deprived areas. For women the difference is broadly the same, being 86 per cent and 74 per cent respectively.

Dr Aitken told delegates that this results in "very different lives" for many people, with poor health having "a huge impact on people, their families, their communities and their economies", in turn impacting on "their ability to contribute, and their use of health services".

Referring to the healthy life expectancy gap, she said: "It is just wrong."

She added that, while average health has improved over the years, the inequality gap has not narrowed.

"We have not got equality in health. Building A Healthier Gwent is about trying to raise the enthusiasm and energy to try to narrow that gap.

"We need to make it much easier for people to make healthy choices."

The provision of healthy homes, spaces and places, the mental and emotional wellbeing of children and young people, sustainable transport and active travel, workplace health, and the idea of social connectedness - how people come together and interact - were among the topics discussed at the conference.

Cllr Hunt said the figures on healthy life expectancy "should appal us in this day and age".

"It is deeply shocking, in an area the size of ours (Gwent)," he said.

"We must step outside our comfort zones and challenge each other to make a difference.

"We have to do it together, as public sector, private sector, third sector, and as individuals.

"We have to go away and feel determined to have the difficult conversations that will lead to something different."