BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Friday, 16 November 2007, 10:34 GMT
'Grim up north' for heart disease
By Catherine Marston
BBC News correspondent

bar scene
Unhealthy lifestyles play a big part
The north and south of Britain stand divided when it comes to anything from property prices to obesity.

Now the British Heart Foundation is warning the same applies to heart disease and deprivation is to blame.

Indeed, the further north you head across Britain, the higher the number of cases recorded.

Middlesbrough on Teesside has one of the highest rates of heart disease and deaths from heart disease in Britain.

You are 25% more likely to suffer from the condition if you live in the area, according to the BHF.

In Britain, 2.6 million people have coronary heart disease, and it is a figure which is rising.

As modern medicine finds new ways to save the lives of those who have a heart attack, more and more people are living with the disease.

The BHF says 80% of those could be prevented.

Disease of deprivation

Middlesbrough has its own unique set of reasons. Here 34% of adults smoke, 27% binge drink and 23% are obese.

These are all key factors likely to cause heart disease. But it's also the areas industrial past which is increasing the incidence of the condition.

Heavy industry and dock workers commonly smoked and drank heavily, took little exercise and ate a poor diet. Now some workers are suffering the consequences.

The industries also brought immigrants from Scotland and Ireland and experts say these groups brought with them a heritage already more prone to the disease.

George Thompson is 54 and had a heart attack earlier this year.

In this area, it's often the men in their 40's, 30's and even 20's
Middlesbrough GP Dr Nigel Rowell

He is a factory fitter and knows only too well how working in heavy industry has influenced his habits.

He smoked 20 cigarettes a day, and accepts he didn't really take much exercise. He says it was perfectly normal to smoke and drink heavily and no-one thought about the long term health consequences.

All too common

Dr Nigel Rowell has a practice in the centre of Middlesbrough. He describes heart disease as their "industry" because he has so many patients on the books suffering from the condition.

The practice has invested in a heart scanning machine, which is normally only found in hospitals.

But he has so many sufferers on his books it's quicker and easier to have one in the clinic.

"We always underestimate the effect of living with heart disease can have on patients," he says.

"In this area, it's often the men in their 40's, 30's and even 20's and they are usually the breadwinners. The disease can leave them unable to work and unable to support their families."

So the Primary Care Trust in Middlesbrough has set up Britain's first Lifestore - a one-stop place in a shopping centre, where people can drop by and have medical checks like blood pressure readings and cholesterol levels taken.

Professor Peter Kelly, the executive director of health, says some people, especially men, are far more likely to pop into the centre than ever visit their GP.

It's already proving effective in identifying who is at risk or high risk of developing the disease.

The PCT also has a specialist heart nurse visiting Mosques to carry out health checks. Research has shown the Asian community has a high incidence of the disease too and won't often visit the GP.

So there are major projects trying to improve Middlesbrough's record, but it will take many more years to reverse decades of poor health.

'I was made in Middlesbrough'
16 Oct 07 |  Magazine
Diabetes up amid rising obesity
22 Oct 07 |  Health

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific