The lifestyle of the early years leaves a legacy that can erupt in disease 50 or 60 years later. Early intervention is essential, the National Heart Forum says.
Heart disease claims 150,000 lives a year but deaths are over twice as common among factory workers than company executives. Death rates have halved among the rich in the past 20 years while increasing slightly among the poor, so that the gap between social classes I and V has grown from 25 per cent to 200 per cent.
The forum says a national target must be set for reducing inequalities in heart disease. Sir Alexander Macara, the forum's chairman, said: "Experts generally agree on what needs to be done. Now it is the turn of the politicians to act."
Ministers will come under further pressure with the publication of a report on reducing health inequalities by Sir Donald Acheson, the former chief government medical officer, which is expected shortly.