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Last Updated: Friday, 27 May, 2005, 23:08 GMT 00:08 UK
Women 'risking health for others'
Image of a mother
Many women put the health of others before their own
Many women risk their own health for the sake of their loved ones, according to research.

Two-thirds of women surveyed by the British Heart Foundation said they were more concerned about the health of family and friends than their own.

And a fifth of the 1,154 respondents said they were not concerned with their own health at all.

Psychologists said this behaviour was likely to be evolutionary to ensure the individual's genes are passed on.


Dr Rick O'Gorman, an expert in the psychology of altruism at the University of Essex, said: "Mothers in particular are famous for sacrificing themselves for the benefit of their children.

Women can be their own worst enemies when it comes to looking after their health
Belinda Linden of the British Heart Foundation

"From an evolutionary perspective, mothers tend to strongly invest in offspring, often to their own cost.

"Additionally, humans in general behave quite altruistically.

"With the modern prominent focus on healthcare and controlling our wellbeing, we would expect a majority of individuals to be highly concerned about relatives, spouses, children and friends.

"Women may tend to be concerned about the health of significant others because of social norms relating to women."

He suggested that older women in particular might be more concerned for the health of close relatives than themselves, as they have less reproductive time left, and to pass on their genes it may be better to concentrate benefits on those alive than potential future offspring.

Dr Tom Farsides from the University of Sussex said: "If they care about the health of their families, women should not neglect their own health.

"Not only is there the practical consideration of being alive and healthy to help their family for as long as possible, they are sending mixed signals to their family."

Belinda Linden of the British Heart Foundation said: "Women can be their own worst enemies when it comes to looking after their health - neglecting their own needs in favour of looking after their loved ones.

"The sad reality is that thousands of women die from heart and circulatory disease and we desperately want to stop so many women and their families from being affected.

"Being more aware of your heart health now could prevent problems in the future."

In the survey, most women perceived men to be at greater risk of heart disease, even though similar numbers of men and women die from it in the UK each year.

The BHF hopes its Help a Heart Week, which begins on June 4, will dispel the myths surrounding women and heart disease.

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