Researchers challenge focus on rural older adults in Chris Whitty’s latest health report 

Tuesday 4th June – by Aaruthy Suthahar

In a report published this week in Clinical Medicine, researchers from the Centre for Ageing Resilience in a Changing Environment (CARICE) show that contrary to that suggested in Chris Whitty’s latest annual Chief Medical Officer (CMO) report for England, most older adults live in urban areas rather than rural areas. Adding in self-reported health as a measure of need for services, a more complex picture of ageing demographics emerged, suggesting a need for a nuanced understanding when planning healthcare services and resource allocation.

According to Nathan Cheetham, Senior Postdoctoral Data Scientist: 

“Chris Whitty’s latest report as Chief Medical Officer highlights the importance of understanding the geography of ageing in England. However, it’s crucial to consider both absolute and relative population metrics for a comprehensive view.” 

Census 2021 data indicates that approximately three-quarters of older adults in England and Wales, equivalent to 8.4 million individuals, live in urban regions. This challenges the emphasis placed on rural and coastal areas in the CMO report. 

Professor Claire J. Steves, specialising in Ageing and Health, emphasises: 

“We need to move beyond simplistic rural-urban dichotomies when planning healthcare services. The absolute numbers and health needs of older adults in urban areas demand attention. This is particularly important as we experience more climate change-related heat waves which mostly affect urban hotspots. Older people living in such places also tend to be more vulnerable.”   

“This is particularly important as we experience more climate change-related heat waves which mostly affect urban hotspots.  Older people living in such places are the most vulnerable group.”

Projected population growth further complicates assumptions about urban-rural dynamics. Rather than shrinking, urban areas are projected to experience significant growth in older populations over the next two decades, with a projected increase of 43% compared to 48% in rural areas by 2043. 

Disparities in health outcomes underscore the need for subtle policy responses, urban-dwelling older adults are not only more numerous but also more likely to reside in deprived neighbourhoods and report poorer health compared to their rural counterparts.

Investing in preventive measures and understanding the diverse needs of older adults across different geographical areas is imperative for ensuring equitable healthcare provision.   

As policymakers navigate the evolving landscape of ageing demographics, a comprehensive approach considering both absolute numbers and health indicators is vital for effectively addressing the healthcare needs of older adults in England. 

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