Where do England's happiest and healthiest people live?

·5-min read
Research uncovers healthiest and happiest areas in England. (Getty Images)
Are the happiest people living in your area? (Getty Images)

Our health and wellbeing has become top priority in the past couple of years, as the pandemic has led us to re-evaluate what really matters in life.

Now, researchers are able to reveal the happiest and healthiest places in England, as part of the country’s official wellbeing rankings.

The latest findings, tracked in 2019 and published earlier this year by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), identified Ribble Valley in Lancashire as the healthiest borough in England out of 307 local authority areas. It gained an overall health score of 112.9, up 1.6 points compared with the previous year.

An area's 'health' rating was assessed in three different ways, looking at 'healthy people', 'healthy lives' and 'healthy places'. While the first two categories covered health outcomes and health-related behaviour, the third looked at factors such as air pollution, traffic noise, access to public green space and proximity to sports and leisure facilities.

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Summer in the Ribble Valley. Sun shining on Pendle hill
Ribble Valley is the healthiest borough in England, according to the latest results. (Getty Images)

Meanwhile, Blackpool came bottom of the league, with just 90.6, despite this being a small 0.1 rise compared to its previous score.

Ribble Valley's two highest scores by individual category were 122.7 for 'children and young people' and 121.2 for 'physical health conditions' while its lowest rating was 88.6 for 'access to services'.

A significant decrease in cancer and lower rates of diabetes explained its higher score in the category of 'physical health conditions', compared with previous years, according to the ONS.

'Living conditions' also improved from 113.5 to 119.6, which was driven by a decrease in rough sleeping and a decrease in air pollution, although there was a decline in road safety.

An improvement in the category: 'difficulties in daily life' was driven in part by a decrease in rates of disability among residents.

However, the area's poor score for 'access to services' means there is room for improvement when it comes to local facilities such as GP services, distance to pharmacies, distance to sports or leisure facilities, internet access and access to green spaces.

Despite Blackpool seeing some improvements in physical health and living conditions, high levels of rough sleeping caused a 12-point drop.

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Blackpool tower and Central pier
Blackpool is the least healthy borough in England, according to the latest results. (Getty Images)

Other areas in the top 10 healthiest local authorities in England include Hart with 111 points, Rushcliffe with 110.2, Waverley with 110.1, Wokingham with 110.1, Eden with 110, South Hams with 110, Epsom and Ewell with 109.7, Mole Valley 109.6 and South Oxfordshire with 109.4.

In order, Rutland, Rochford, Uttlesford, St Albans, Elmbridge, Horsham, South Cambridgeshire, Cotswold, South Norfolk and Craven completed the top 20.

Meanwhile, other areas in the 10 least healthy local authorities in England include Manchester with 90.8 points, Middlesbrough with 91, Lincoln with 91.6, Nottingham with 91.8, Liverpool with 91.8, Kingston upon Hull with 91.8, Thanet 92.2, Birmingham with 92.4 and Stoke-on-Trent with 93.4.

In order, Salford, Leicester, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Wolverhampton, Sandwell, Bradford, Doncaster, Southampton, Hartlepool and Sunderland completed the bottom 20.

Surprisingly, given the city's high levels of pollution, London scored highly for 'healthy people', likely driven by a younger population, but poorly for 'healthy lives' and 'healthy places'.

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Peach Street and Wiltshire Road deserted empty town centre during the 2020 coronavirus covid-19 lockdown. No cars, no traffic, no people. Traditional old fashioned town roads and buildings. Photographs taken in bright daytime, during the early Spring. In Wokingham town centre, Berkshire, England, UK.
Wokingham was revealed as the healthiest borough in last year's published findings. (Getty Images)

Looking back to the last results (published by the ONS and financial services company Lane Clark & Peacock) for the year 2018, Brent in northwest London was identified as the happiest area, with Wokingham in Berkshire the healthiest.

Residents of Halton in Cheshire were found to be the most overweight, those living in Bath the fittest, and the population of Richmond-upon-Thames the most likely to eat nutritious meals.

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However, the research revealed some odd results when it came to health – Newham in east London was one of the worst places for physical activity, healthy eating and air pollution, but it also had the lowest rates of depression and dementia in England.

Similarly, East Yorkshire ranked high for access to housing and private outdoor space, and to the answer to the question of whether life is "worthwhile", but it ranked as one of the worst for heart conditions, cancer and high blood pressure.

Other places that ranked high behind Wokingham in terms of overall health included Richmond-upon-Thames, Windsor and Maidenhead, West Berkshire, Surrey, Bracknell Forest, Buckinghamshire and Rutland.

Locations with the lowest score for health included Blackpool, Hull, Stoke-on-Trent, Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, Knowsley, Doncaster, Nottingham, St Helens and Salford.

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The report's editor-in-chief Dr Jonathan Pearson-Stuttard told The Sunday Times at the time that in three years there had been a "big increase in depression”.

"While there is some encouragement to be had from slight improvements in measures related to wellbeing and mortality," he explained, "these have been cancelled out by worsening mental and physical health morbidity. These may have deteriorated further as a result of COVID-19.”

While the latest results published in March 2022 found health in England to broadly remain stable between 2015-2019, there are plans for the ONS to release the index for 2020 next, covering the first year of the Covid pandemic.

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