Social inequality linked to heart disease risk in women

13 October 2016        

A female nurse sits at bedside with woman as they look at information together.

Much of the social inequality in heart disease risk among UK women is due to smoking, obesity and physical inactivity, according to a new study.

A study, which we part-funded at the University of Oxford, has found that women with lower levels of education and living in more deprived areas of the UK are at greater risk of coronary heart disease.

Million Women Study

The study of over a million women is being published today in the journal BMC Medicine. It shows that lifestyle factors such as smoking, obesity and physical inactivity are largely culpable, with smoking being the most important contributing factor.

The study included 1.2 million participants in the Million Women Study -  about 1 in 4 of all UK women born in the 1930s and 1940s. During 12 years of follow-up 72,000 women developed coronary heart disease

Lifestyle factors

The researchers found that, without taking into account lifestyle factors, women in the most deprived areas had twice the risk of heart disease compared to women from the least deprived areas. After taking into account the lifestyle factors the differentials in risk diminished.

Our Director of Prevention, Survival and Support Catherine Kelly, said:

"This research reinforces previous studies we’ve funded that highlight the stark inequalities in rates of heart disease between the most and least affluent in our society.

"It's an important reminder that tackling heart health inequalities should remain a public health priority, and that further research is crucial to identify the most effective ways of supporting people to make sustainable changes to their lifestyle.

"A powerful way of encouraging people to improve their heart health is to calculate their 'heart age', using the Heart Age Tool we developed with Public Health England. A recent study, which we part-funded, found that that nearly 80 per cent of over 30-year-olds had a heart age older than their actual age and that assessing heart age was an effective way to encourage people to make long term improvements to their health.  

"We would also encourage people to take advantage of the free NHS health check as a way of understanding their risk of heart disease and the steps they can take to lower it."

Find out more about your heart health

Use our Heart Age Tool to discover your 'heart age' and how you can make changes to improve your heart health.

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