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Friday, 1 February, 2002, 01:23 GMT
Heart disease deaths plummet
Heart attack patient
Some 2.6m people in the UK live with heart disease
The number of people dying from heart disease has fallen by a record amount in a two-year period.

Figures from the British Heart Foundation show that the number of fatalities has dropped by 10%.

A staggering 13,000 less people a year died from the UK's biggest killer, according to figures up to the end of 2000.

It means the UK is on course to reach government targets to reduce the number of deaths by heart attacks two years earlier than the expected time of 2010.

But the British Heart Foundation says the number of people actually suffering from coronary heart conditions is not falling. An estimated 2.6 million people are still living with the disease in the UK.


Medical research can do so much to save lives, but in the long run people must take responsibility for their actions

Prof Sir Charles George, BHF

It warns that unless the population takes action to combat conditions such as obesity - already nearing levels similar to the US - the future looks bleak.

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is still the single biggest killer in the UK, claiming nearly 125,000 lives a year.

This equates to one in four deaths in men and one in six deaths in women.

Advances in treatment have been given as the main reason for the unprecedented drop in CHD.

Growing inactivity

People who would probably have died in the past are now being saved thanks to medical techniques and surgery.

Not only that, but changes in diet and a rise in the numbers giving up smoking have also had an effect.

But the British Health Foundation (BHF) warns that heart disease should still be a huge concern.

Dr Mike Rayner, director of the BHF's Health Promotion Research Group, said : "Improvements have not necessarily led to a decline in those with heart disease, these are actually going up and the rate of obesity has doubled since the 1980s."

Woman smoking
More people are giving up smoking, says the BHF

The BHF is calling on both the government and the population to tackle a growing inactivity and obesity trend in both adults and children.

It says people are generally not doing enough physical activity - 20% of us do no physical activity whatsoever and one in three take less than 30 minutes exercise per week.

Although diet has an effect, exercise proves to have a much greater influence on reducing the risk of heart disease, says the BHF.

Professor Sir Charles George, Medical Director at the BHF, said: "Medical research can do so much to save lives, but in the long run people must take responsibility for their actions."

"Physical activity makes a big difference and it should be seen as a long term investment for the young and for older people a necessity for now," he added.

Younger generations are increasingly at risk, the BHF said, as a quarter of children watch four hours of television a day, and only a third of all schools offer two hours a week of physical activity.

Sir Charles said England and Wales should take a lead from Scotland where targets have been set for "getting people moving".

"If the sedentary population (37% of UK adults) were to do 30 minutes of physical activity five times a week, coronary heart disease deaths could be reduced by around 10%. It is time for the government to step in and set targets to get Britain's sedentary people off their sofas," he added.

Sir Charles warned heart disease could re-emerge as the "scourge of tomorrow's society", with more people becoming diabetic and being at greater risk of heart disease.

Sir Charles added: "These risks are very real and people must think about them now."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Daniel Sandford
"We still do very badly compared to other Europen countries"
Dr Liam Penny, Cardiff and Vale NHS Trust
says improvements in treatment are partly responsible for the fall in heart disease
Robin Williams, Heart bypass patient
says everyone should have regular cholesterol and blood pressure checks
See also:

17 Jan 02 | Health
Online heart disease prevention
28 May 01 | Health
'Revolution' in heart bypass ops
04 Sep 01 | Health
Heart op clot risk warning
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