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Last Updated: Friday, 4 June, 2004, 01:39 GMT 02:39 UK
Heart disease 'on the increase'
The number of people suffering from heart disease is rising, according to latest statistics.

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) revealed one in eight people have heart disease - a 5% increase since 1989.

Some 2.7m Britons have coronary heart disease although the death rate has actually fallen since the 1970s with the introduction of better treatment.

BHF medical director Professor Sir Charles George blamed people's increasingly unhealthy lifestyles.

Surgery needed

He said: "It is pleasing to see the death rate from coronary heart disease continuing to fall at a steady rate, but our aim should be higher than simply keeping people alive.

"Every year, thousands of us are being told that our coronary arteries are incapable of getting enough blood to our hearts and that, without surgery, our heart muscle could suffer irreparable damage.

"And those are the fortunate ones who get a warning. Why put ourselves through the pain and misery so unnecessarily?

"Most heart disease is avoidable if we take simple measures to improve our lifestyle. Too many people in the UK are exercising too little, eating diets too high in fat, salt and sugar, and, consequently, becoming overweight or obese.

"This trend has real and worrying implications for the future rates of CHD in the UK and for the freedom of future generations to live long and health lives."

Decrease slowed

Despite the long-term decline, the UK death rate is still one of the highest in western Europe - only Finland and Ireland have slightly higher rates.

CHD is the most common cause of death in the UK with more than one in five men and one in six women dying from the disease.

And the fall that has been seen has not been as rapid as some other countries such as Norway and Australia.

The numbers dying from heart disease fell from 121,000 in 2001 to 117,500 in 2002 although the decrease among younger age groups has slowed in recent years.

The study, Coronary Heat Disease Statistics 2004, which was published ahead of the start of Heart Week on Saturday, said that the improvements could be undermined by the obesity crisis.

For all the progress made, the sad fact is that one person every two minutes suffers a heath attack in the UK
Professor Sir Charles George
The warning after a Common's Health Select Committee report published last week claimed that the UK's growing obesity epidemic was threatening to reverse the fall in heart disease victims.

It estimated obesity was costing 3.7bn a year - a 42% increase on previous estimates.

The BHF study identified the lack of exercise - only a third of men and a quarter of women get the recommended weekly level - and unhealthy diets as a cause for concern.

Sir Charles added: "For all the progress made, the sad fact is that one person every two minutes suffers a heath attack in the UK.

"That number looks likely to rise if we allow complacency and inactivity to ruin our lives."

Health Secretary John Reid said: "I am pleased that the figures recognise the success we are having on reducing the number of deaths from cardiovascular disease by 23% over the last five years.

"We are ensuring that this positive step continues, for example by allowing statins - a drug that reduces the risk of heart attack - to be available without a prescription."

Dr Reid added that cutting obesity rates would be a key issue in the White Paper on Public Health to be published later this year.

The BBC's Branwen Jeffreys
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