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Monday, September 27, 1999 Published at 09:15 GMT 10:15 UK


Health inequalities 'kill thousands'

Manual workers are more likely to smoke

Thousands of people are dying of heart disease because of health inequalities, according to a major statistical survey.

The British Heart Foundation has used government statistics to compile its own research into the effects of social inequalities on death from coronary heart disease.

Dr Vivienne Press, British Heart Foundation: 5,000 deaths
It found that 5,000 men under 65 die each year because of social differences. The premature death rate for manual workers such as builders and cleaners was 58% higher than for non-manual workers such as lawyers and accountants.

And the differential is even greater when female manual workers are compared to their non-manual equivalents.

Blamed on smoking

This is blamed on higher rates of smoking among manual workers, as smoking is a key cause of coronary heart disease (CHD).

In 1996, 35% of men and 33% of women in manual jobs smoked compared to 21% and 22% in non-manual groups.

[ image: People in the north eat fewer portions of vegetables]
People in the north eat fewer portions of vegetables
In addition, these figures are dropping faster in the non-manual groups.

Dr Vivienne Press, assistant medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said: "This report shows that although the overall CHD death rate is in decline nationally, the overall trend masks the fact that the numbers of people living with illness and disability from CHD is not falling, and may be rising.

"It is clear that specific, and often more vulnerable groups within the UK are failing to benefit and are now carrying the main burden of heart disease."

She called on the government and researchers to work together to find out why this was happening.

£10bn lost to heart disease

BBC Radio 5live extols the virtues of an Ulster fry up
The report also estimated that CHD was costing the UK economy more than £10bn a year - £8.5bn on working days lost to death, illness and having to care for the ill, and £1.6bn on healthcare costs.

Significant regional differences show up in official figures.

The British Heart Foundation says that this is because people living in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the North of England eat considerably less fruit and vegetables.

Experts say that eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day reduces the risk of CHD and cancer.

The government is hoping to reduce the number of deaths from CHD in the under 75s by two-fifths by the year 2010.

This is to be achieved principally by targeting diet and smoking.

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