Ageing: Science, Technology and Healthy Living Contents

Ageing: Science, Technology and Healthy Living

Chapter 1: Introduction


1.As in many developed countries, the population of the UK is ageing. By 2035 it is projected that there will be around 16 million people over the age of 65 living in the UK, an increase of around 4 million from 2018, and nearly 5 million people over the age of 80, a 51% increase from 2018.1 Conversely, the population of working age people is likely to remain relatively static.2

2.Changes to the age profile of the population are due to a combination of lower birth rates and increases in life expectancy over the past century.3 Between 1980 and 2018, life expectancy at birth rose from 70.5 to 79.3 for males, and from 76.6 to 82.9 for females, although since 2011 the rate of improvement of life expectancy has slowed compared with previous decades.4 By 2043, life expectancy for males at birth is projected to increase by 3.3 years to 82.6, while female life expectancy is projected to increase by 2.6 years to 85.5.5

3.However, despite improvements to life expectancy, healthy life expectancy (the number of years a person is expected to live in good health, without disability) has generally not kept pace. Healthy life expectancy for males was 62.7 in the period 2009–11,6 increasing by 0.4 years to 63.1 by the period 2016–18, while life expectancy between those periods increased by 0.8 years. For females, healthy life expectancy increased by only 0.2 years between those periods, while life expectancy increased by 0.6 years. This means that the proportion of life spent in good health has decreased from 79.9% to 79.5% for males, and from 77.4% to 76.7% for females.7

4.There is a pronounced social gradient to both life expectancy and healthy life expectancy. In England in the period 2016–18, the difference in life expectancy between the most and least deprived areas was 9.5 years for males and 7.5 years for females.8 The differences in healthy life expectancy are 18.9 years for males and 19.4 years for females.9

5.In November 2017, the Government named “Ageing Society” as one of four cross-cutting “Grand Challenges” in the Industrial Strategy, committing to “harness the power of innovation to help meet the needs of an ageing society”.10 In May 2018, the Government announced that the mission of the Ageing Society Grand Challenge was to “ensure that people can enjoy at least five extra healthy, independent years of life by 2035, while narrowing the gap between the experience of the richest and the poorest”.11

Our inquiry

6.In July 2019 we launched an inquiry into ageing, covering aspects of science, technology and healthy living. Our aim was to assess the feasibility of the Government’s Ageing Society Grand Challenge mission, and to understand to what extent developments in science and technology will be important in reaching this goal. We also considered how current public health policy and the coordination of healthcare for older people may be contributing to more years spent in poor health.

7.In addition to receiving a large amount of oral and written evidence, we held a roundtable discussion in private with six older people, to hear about their priorities and concerns around healthy ageing. We are very grateful to all those who gave evidence and who took part in the roundtable discussion.

8.We thank our specialist adviser, Professor Janet Lord, Director of the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing at the University of Birmingham.

Structure of this report

9.Chapter 2 outlines the current and projected trends relating to ageing—including life expectancy and healthy life expectancy—and identifies some key challenges facing efforts to increase healthy life expectancy. Chapter 3 examines the biological processes associated with ageing and potential treatments that could be used to slow down the ageing process. Chapter 4 assesses the lifestyle and environmental factors that influence healthy ageing and examines the role of public health policy in improving healthy life expectancy. Chapter 5 looks at the role of technology, data and services in facilitating healthy and independent living in older age. Finally, Chapter 6 examines the Ageing Society Grand Challenge itself, including its oversight and whether the mission is on track to be achieved by 2035.

COVID-19 pandemic

10.We received most of the evidence for this inquiry before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has highlighted issues related to ageing, some of which are outlined in a short post-script to this report. That section includes evidence about the impacts of the pandemic that we received from medical experts who very kindly gave of their time to write to us, having been unable to give evidence as planned in March 2020. We undertook a separate inquiry on The Science of COVID-19, including evidence about health impacts.12

1 Office for National Statistics, Principal projection—UK population in age groups (21 October 2019): [accessed 28 September 2020]

2 Q 2 (Professor Chris Whitty)

3 Office for National Statistics, Living longer: how our population is changing and why it matters (13 August 2018):–08-13 [accessed 28 September 2020]

4 Office for National Statistics, Past and projected period and cohort life tables, 2018-based, UK: 1981 to 2068 (2 December 2019): [accessed 28 September 2020]

5 Ibid.

6 Life expectancies are based on three consecutive years of data, to reduce the effect of annual fluctuations caused by seasonal events such as flu.

7 Office for National Statistics, Health state life expectancies, UK: 2016 to 2018 (11 December 2019): [accessed 28 September 2020]

8 Office for National Statistics, Health state life expectancies by national deprivation deciles, England: 2016 to 2018 (27 March 2020): [accessed 28 September 2020]

9 Ibid.

10 Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Industrial Strategy: building a Britain fit for the future (November 2017), p 10: [accessed 7 September 2020]

11 Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, The Grand Challenge (September 2019): [accessed 7 September 2020]

12 House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, The Science of COVID-19 (May-October 2020):

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