Inclusive content - Age

How to talk about different age groups and stages of life.

Only include age if it's relevant, for example, with vaccination, screening or testing programmes for particular age groups. An example of this is chlamydia testing as tests are free for under-25s.

Stages of life

Here are some of the terms we use for different stages of life with some guidance about the ages they relate to.

When you need to be more specific, for example if you're writing about medicines dosage, give the actual age. For example, "teenagers aged 16 and over".

We use:

  • fertilised egg: from conception to 14 days
  • embryo: from 2 to 6 weeks
  • baby: during pregnancy, at birth and up to 1 year. (Read more about how we use "baby" in the A to Z of NHS health writing.)
  • toddler: 1 to 3 years
  • child: 4 to 12 years
  • teenager: 13 to 19 years
  • young people: 16 to 24 years
  • adult: generally from age 18 but this may vary. Be specific, for example: "adults aged 19 to 64"

Babies and toddlers

With babies and toddlers, we count their age in weeks up until 6 months, then months up until 2 years.

Our research shows that this is how people talk about their child's age. Healthcare professionals also use weeks and months in this way. It means we can be consistent and accurate when writing about a baby's milestones, vaccinations and development reviews.

Older people

We prefer to specify ages: over-65s, over-75s, over-80s.

In some contexts, we use "older person" or "older people", for example, where a health condition might affect people in their 60s or in their 90s.‚Äč

Example

Anyone can have a fall, but older people are more vulnerable and likely to fall, especially if they have a long-term health condition.

We do not use the words:

  • elderly
  • middle aged
  • OAP
  • old age pensioner
  • pensioner
  • senior

Would you like to contribute to this guidance?

Please let us know how this has worked for you and, in particular, if you have research findings to share. This will help us improve it for everyone.

Before you start, you will need a GitHub account. It's an open forum where we collect feedback.

If you have any questions, you can message us on Slack. You will need a Slack account if you do not have one. Or you can contact us by email.

Updated: September 2021