The risk of heart disease has been found to be higher among U.K. women living in greater social inequality. Risk factors for heart disease stem from many unhealthy lifestyle choices including smoking, physical inactivity, obesity, and alcohol consumption. Women of lower socio-economic status were found to partake in these unhealthy lifestyle habits more so than women of higher socio-economic status, which can contribute to their higher risk of heart disease.
Lead author of the study, Dr. Sarah Floud, explained, “Women with fewer educational qualifications and from more deprived areas of the UK were more likely to smoke, be obese and be physically inactive, although they consumed slightly less alcohol. We found that these factors accounted for most of the social inequalities in heart disease risk. The most important factor, however, was smoking: it alone accounted for about half of the associations of heart disease with education and deprivation.”
The study included 1.2 million participants and consisted of a 12-year follow-up period. During the follow-up period, 72,000 women developed heart disease. The researchers focused on smoking, alcohol, body mass index, and physical activity as risk factors for heart disease.
At first, without taking into account the four lifestyle factors of heart disease, the researchers found that those women with low education had double the risk of heart disease or of dying from heart disease. Women living in the most deprived areas also had double the risk of heart disease compared to women living in more affluent areas. Once the four factors were taken into consideration, the differences in risk diminished.
Dr. Floud added, “It is important to recognize that these health-related behaviors are themselves influenced by education and deprivation, and that it is harder to change them if you don’t have the resources to do so.”
The study findings point to a greater need for public policies and education of populations in regards to the dangers of unhealthy lifestyle habits as they contribute to heart disease. In order to reduce heart disease rates, it is important that greater education is promoted so that all members of the population are aware of the detrimental effects of unhealthy lifestyle habits.
“Much of social inequality in heart disease in UK women is due to health-related behaviors,” Eureka Alert web site, https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-10/bc-sii101016.php, last accessed October 13, 2016.
Floud, S., et. Al., “The role of health-related behavioural factors in accounting for inequalities in coronary heart disease risk by education and area deprivation: prospective study of 1.2 million UK women,” BMC Medicine, https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12916-016-0687-2, last accessed October 13, 2016.