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Thursday, October 29, 1998 Published at 00:38 GMT


Poor 'more at risk from heart disease'

The National Heart Forum recommends healthy eating

The poorest people in Britain are three times more likely to suffer heart disease than those who are better off, say a group of heart experts.

Richard Hannaford on the report recommendations
In the first study of the effects of deprivation on heart health, the National Heart Forum (NHF) said that the health gap between rich and poor had widened considerably over the past 30 years.

Social deprivation at all stages of life can affect health, it said, and called for a national campaign to teach children how to live more healthy lifestyles.

It said lack of money led to unhealthy lifestyles and government measures such as the provision of free healthy school dinners were needed if today's deprived children are to live as long as their well-off counterparts.

Its report revealed that deaths among professional men caused by heart disease have halved since 1970, while those among unskilled men have increased slightly.

Professor George Davey Smith, a member of the NHF, said: "There is a strong correlation between deprivation and risk of coronary heart disease."

WIde-ranging effects

The forum, an alliance of 35 organisations working to reduce heart disease in the UK, is composed of practitioners in health research and social policy.

[ image: Coronary heart disease claims 150,000 lives each year in the UK]
Coronary heart disease claims 150,000 lives each year in the UK
Its report, Social Inequalities In Coronary Heart Disease: Opportunities For Action, identified social disadvantage precipitating ill health in a range of areas.

It said: "The social gradient in ill health is apparent for all causes of death apart from breast cancer."

It said a coronary heart disease campaign should be used as a test for reducing health inequalities between rich and poor.

Massive cost

Coronary heart disease claims 150,000 victims a year in the UK, and costs £10bn in health care costs and loss to industry.

The report identified how deprivation created risk factors for coronary heart disease.

Deprived children were more likely to experience:

  • Malnutrition
  • Increased illness
  • Lack of educational opportunities and attainment.

Adults were more likely to:

  • Be unemployed
  • Smoke
  • Live in poor social conditions.

The report also called for tax revenues from smoking to be used to pay for aids to give up smoking, such as making nicotine patches available free on the NHS.

Government action

Benefits should also be calculated so as to take into account the cost of healthy living, it said.

[ image: Sir Alexander Macara:
Sir Alexander Macara: "Politicians must act"
Sir Alexander Macara, chairman of the NHF and a public health doctor, said: "The evidence is clear that while public health improvements in this country have succeeded among the better off, they are failing the poorest groups."

The government's current plans for public health include the implementation of health improvement programmes and health action zones, which target specific areas where poor health is prevalent.

Sir Alexander welcomed the government's efforts, but urged it to place a special focus on coronary heart disease.

He said: "Experts generally agree on what needs to be done to reduce coronary heart disease risk. Now it is the turn of the politicians to act."

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