Poor live with double the risk of heart attack

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The Independent Online
HEART DISEASE is increasing in England with poorer people at growing risk of suffering from heart attacks, angina and high blood pressure, say government statistics. The 1998 Health Survey for England, published yesterday by the Department of Health, shows that since 1994 heart disease in men has risen from 7.1 per cent to 8.5 per cent of the population and for women from 5.2 per cent to 6.2 per cent.

The latest figures highlight the widening health gap between the nation's rich and poor, with men on below- average incomes having twice the chance of angina, heart attacks or strokes than men on above-average incomes.

Among men doing manual and semi-skilled work, one in ten suffers from cardiovascular disease - compared with one in twenty in the managerial and professional classes.

In July, the Government set targets to reduce coronary heart disease, stroke and related illnesses by at least two-fifths by 2010, and will soon be publishing the country's first national service framework, outlining measures for reducing the instance of heart disease. "This report shows why our target to cut coronary heart disease is so vital," said Yvette Cooper, the Public Health minister.

"We are putting strategies in place aimed at reversing these trends and delivering substantial health improvements over the next 10 years." Ms Cooper said the report also showed the urgent need to tackle the causes of heart disease, especially among poorer people. "Health inequalities like these are unfair and unacceptable," she said. "This is why the Government is taking action to tackle smoking and target additional resources to tackle CHD (coronary heart disease) in low- income areas."

Research published by the British Heart Foundation earlier this year found that 5,000 men under 65 die each year from heart disease because of social inequality.

The Health Survey annual report, covering more than 9,000 households, also showed obesity was on the rise. The number of men who were either obese or overweight rose from 58 per cent in 1994 to 63 per cent in 1998 and the number of women from 49 per cent to 53 per cent. One in five women and nearly one in six men are obese. Among manual and semi-skilled workers, 28 per cent of women were obese compared with 14 per cent in the professional and managerial social class.

One health problem that did not seem linked to income was high cholesterol levels, which had increased to 18 per cent of men and 22 per cent of women across classes.

Women are drinking more alcohol than they did in 1994. One in five women in the upper social classes drank more than 14 units a week compared with one in 10 in the lower social classes. Although men's consumption of alcohol had not increased during the period they still on average drank twice the amount when compared with women.

Men's and women's participation in sport or exercise, heavy housework and walking decreased significantly with age. Despite government initiatives to encourage people to do more physical exercise to reduce the risk of heart disease and obesity, the findings showed they were doing less and less. Young men did some activity for at least half an hour for 11 days month. This shrunk to only three days a month by the time they were aged 45. On average women did half the amount of exercise as men.

Young women were more likely to do heavy housework than any other form of exercise, with those aged 25 to 34 doing the most. By the time women were 55 they did only 30 minutes' exercise twice a month.

The figures showed the chances of men doing enough activity were higher for men in manual rather than non-manual social classes.

More than half the men in the lowest social class did the recommended amount of exercise - five half-hour sessions a month - compared with less than one-third in the top class. Only one in five women did the recommended amount of exercise; class made little difference.