The Guardian 23 August 2012
The stark social class divide in health is widening as better-off people increasingly shun damaging habits such as smoking and eating badly but poorer people do not, authoritative new research reveals.
The number of people in England who risk their health by engaging in “multiple lifestyle behaviours” such as smoking, drinking too much and physical inactivity is falling, according to a study by the influential King’s Fund health thinktank, shown to the Guardian.
But it is middle-class people who are driving the trend, while the most disadvantaged remain stuck in a cycle of risky behaviour which increases their chances of developing a range of serious illnesses and will put “unavoidable pressure” on an already hard-pressed NHS, it says.
The study covered 2003-08, a period in which the Labour government embarked on a massive campaign to persuade people to live healthier lives.
The researchers found that people with no educational qualifications were more than five times as likely as those with degrees to engage in four key damaging behaviours in 2008, compared with three times as likely in 2003.
The findings have cast doubt on the prospect of the health secretary, Andrew Lansley, fulfilling his pledge to “improve the health of the poorest fastest” in order to reduce glaring health inequalities. England’s richest citizens live seven years longer on average than their poorer neighbours. The report also reopens the debate over how to encourage poorer people to adopt healthier habits.