Covid-19 has seen life expectancy fall in British men for the first time since records began - and the North East is the hardest hit area in the UK.

South Tyneside in particularly has seen a stark decrease - men born this year can expect to live 15 months less than those born three years ago.

Life expectancy for men there is now just 76.4 years, according to new national data.

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That's the fourth biggest drop of any area in the country and one South Tyneside Council's health chief said was "disappointing".

Councillor Anne Hetherington added: "The fall in life expectancy reported in the latest data release (2018-20) is related to a number of complex factors that are hard to isolate, but clearly the Covid pandemic has played its part."

The Office for National Statistics has compared its figures for life expectancy at birth for the three years 2018 to 2020 with the equivalent data from 2015 to 2017.

Although other areas of the country have lower life expectancy than in the North East, the drop compared to three years ago is starkest here.

On average across the region, men will live four months less than they would otherwise have expected to.

Living in Northumberland is still probably your best bet locally: There you're looking at a life expectancy of just under 80 for men, which is higher than the average.

The ONS cautions that these figures could change in the future - much depends on whether the high mortality rate experience due to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 continues.

The data shows men in the region will live to around the age of 77 and a half - more than three years less than those in the South East. The only region where this is lower is Scotland.

Statistically men die earlier than women, and the impact of Covid-19 has highlighted this once again.

But life expectancy for women has stalled too - in our region women will live around a month less than three years ago, likely to reach 81 and a half.

It's not all bad news - life expectancy for men and women remains substantially higher than in previous decades.

Back in 2003, men in the region were only expected to live to 74, with women likely to make it to 79.

In South Tyneside, Coun Hetherington continued: "We remain focussed on our overarching goal to improve the health and wellbeing of the whole population, while improving the lives of those in our poorest communities the fastest.

"We recognise that health inequalities are the result of a mix of factors, such as poor housing, education, skills and jobs and are doing all we can to address these issues and recover quickly from the impact of Covid."

Coun Hetherington added the town hall was also refreshing its health and wellbeing strategy.

The impact of inequality on the health of our area is well-documented.

Earlier in September, researchers revealed the "massive" impact Covid-19 has had on the North, while last year the Joseph Rowntree Foundation highlighted the scale of extreme poverty here.

Health inequality researcher Sir Michael Marmot has often highlighted how deprivation causes greater health problems and shorter lifespans.

Sir Michael, a patron of Newcastle charity Healthworks, wrote earlier in September in the charity's annual report that: "During the Covid pandemic, people facing the greatest disadvantage experienced not only a higher risk of exposure to Covid but their existing poor health put them at risk of more severe outcomes if they contracted the virus.

"This is because of longstanding, avoidable socio-economic inequities and ethnic disadvantage, exacerbated by a decade of spending cuts then amplified by Covid."

The ONS' Pamela Cobb, from the Centre for Ageing and Demography explained the data. She said: "Life expectancy has increased in the UK over the last 40 years, albeit at a slower pace in the last decade.

"However, the coronavirus pandemic led to a greater number of deaths than normal in 2020. Consequently, in the latest estimates, we see virtually no improvement in life expectancy for females compared to 2015 to 2017 at 82.9 years, while for males life expectancy has fallen back to levels reported for 2012 to 2014, at 79 years."

The data is combined over three-year periods to increase reliability.

She added: "Once the coronavirus pandemic has ended and its consequences for future mortality are known, it is possible that life expectancy will return to an improving trend in the future."

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