'Our health history'

The class of 1948, Tintagel Primary School

The graphs shown on this page give an at-a-glance summary of the class's health since 1948. Public health expert Dr Rod Griffiths compares the group's health to the national average.

The graphics below illustrate the most common health conditions suffered by the group (including the headmaster) since 1948, as well as other factors that have affected their health.

When they were born, men in England were expected to live to about 60 and women to 63. That means that we could have expected that about half of the class would have died before that age. In fact, only a third have died and only two died before they were 60.

About half the things this group has been treated for might have shortened their lives. But, in fact, the NHS has dealt with them. Many of the other treatments have relieved pain and suffering. Some of these conditions could have been prevented, and only now is health policy really paying attention to that.

Health conditions

The health-related stories from the class show how advances in medicine have helped them. Since this class was at school there have been huge changes. When they were children, rheumatic fever and TB were significant problems. Now it's much less common for anyone to die of or be seriously affected by these infections.

Between 5% and 7% of over-70s in the UK have type 2 diabetes. The number in this group with diabetes is therefore higher than the average, with four out of 21 pupils living with the condition. One member of the class, Enid, is proof that by managing your weight, you can keep diabetes under control with medication.

As a group they seem to have avoided HIV or any of the hepatitis viruses, neither of which had been heard of when they were born.

Lifestyle choices

The group has been active and productive, with higher employment than in some areas of the country. Almost a third are still working in their 70s. Many have inherited a healthy lifestyle from their rural roots, eating more fresh fruit and vegetables than would be seen in a group living in a city.

Food rationing in the war did a lot to improve the national diet by emphasising what was really needed, and this particular generation will have benefited most from that, and formed the right habits in their teenage years.

Cornwall is not a rich area but life expectancy there is longer than in other comparable areas. These individual stories about diet and exercise may give a clue as to the reasons behind this. A similar inner city group might not have lived as long or had as much opportunity to work.

Cause of death

Only seven out of 21 pupils have died, which is slightly lower than the national average for this age group.

Their cause of death is in line with the national statistics for mortality: the two main causes were cancer (three people) and circulatory diseases (three people). Nationally, these are the two main causes of death for this age group (circulatory disease is the most common).

Smoking

Smoking, as would be expected, emerges as the most important health factor in the group. More than half the deaths were from diseases often caused by smoking. Almost half the group have smoked at some time but now only 14% do, which is comparable with their age group (about 15% of people over 60 smoke). 

There are fewer smokers among the elderly partly because smokers die young, as they have in this group, but also because as people get older they're more likely to realise the damage it is doing. Several of the stories show that. Smoking may also be behind several other life-threatening events in the group.   

Dr Rod Griffiths from the Faculty of Public Health has also written the Doctor's Notes on the individual health profiles in this section.

  • The Class of 1948 content, including this article, was written in 2008 to mark the 60th anniversary of the NHS and is not being updated.

Page last reviewed: 03/04/2014

Next review due: 03/04/2016

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