PEOPLE in the poorest parts of Wales die more than six years earlier, and the cost-of-living crisis will accelerate health inequalities, Wales’ chief medical officer has warned.

Professor Sir Frank Atherton said the cost-of-living crisis will widen already increasing health differences between the best and worst off households.

In his 2023 annual report, Sir Frank cautioned that the cost-of-living crisis will have a disproportionate impact on the health of those on the lowest incomes.

Sir Frank said: “People living in the poorest parts of Wales already die more than six years earlier than those in the least deprived areas and spend more years in poorer health.

“Without appropriate action, the effect of the cost-of-living crisis will be to push more people in Wales from just about coping to a state of struggling or crisis, while those who were already the worst off see their situation deteriorate further.”

Sir Frank warned that the cost-of-living crisis could be as damaging as the Covid pandemic, saying: “The cost-of-living crisis has the potential to affect everyone in Wales, but those who were already the worst off are those who are, and will be, hardest hit.

“This is likely to include people on low incomes, homeless people, people living with disabilities, older people, children, and those living in rural areas.

“The cost-of-living crisis will therefore accelerate what were already increasing differences in health between the best off and worst off households in Wales.”

Calling for an urgent public health response to mitigate the impact of the crisis, Sir Frank said soaring inflation is having a compounding impact as the whole system is less able to respond to a growing need for health, care and support services.

Latest statistics, for 2018-2020, show that life expectancy at birth for males was 74.1 years in the most deprived areas of Wales, compared with 81.6 years in the least.

The data shows that females live for 78.4 years and 84.7 years respectively.

Sir Frank’s report, Shaping our Health, which was published on Thursday, October 2, also cautioned that big businesses can undermine the nation’s health.

He raised concerns about the food, alcohol and gambling industries marketing unhealthy products by funding education programmes in schools.

More than 60 per cent of the Welsh population, including nearly one in three children starting primary school, are overweight or obese.

The chief medical officer recommended that the Welsh Government considers the role of taxes on salt and sugar in future if the industry-led pace of change is insufficient.

Sir Frank also urged the Welsh Government to explore legislation to expand the range of smoke-free spaces, starting with outdoor eating areas, and called for e-cigarettes to be regulated in a similar way.