The great class health divide is widening as better-off shun bad habits, reveals thinktank

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UPDATED:

13:00 GMT, 23 August 2012

Smoking: People who are economically worse off are less likely to give up bad habits, according to research

Smoking: People who are economically worse off are less likely to give up bad habits, according to research

People who are economically better-off are increasingly shunning unhealthy habits such as smoking and binge drinking, new research has revealed.

Poorer people were also more likely to eat a poor diet and do little exercise, according to a study from the thinktank The King's Fund.

Using data from the Health Survey for England they studied changes in the four unhealthy behaviours in the population between 2003 and 2008.

They found the overall proportion of
the population who engaged in three of the four behaviours declined from
33 per cent to 25 per cent.

However, these reductions have been seen mainly among those in higher socio-economic and educational groups.

In the article 'Clustering of unhealthy behaviours over time', they wrote: 'People with no qualifications were more than five times as likely as those with higher education to engage in all four poor behaviours in 2008, compared with only three times as likely in 2003.'

They warned that although the health of the population could be expected to improve as a result of the changes 'the poorest and those with least education will benefit least, leading to widening inequalities and avoidable
pressure on the NHS.'

At present England's richest citizens can expect to leave seven years longer on average than the poorest.

Team leader David Buck said those from a poorer background or who were less well-educated were more likely to develop long-term conditions such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

Those who are less well-off are more likely to consume a poor diet

Those who are less well-off are more likely to consume a poor diet

The researchers said health inequalities could only be tackled when policy-makers found effective ways of encouraging poorer people to give up unhealthy habits.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley pledged earlier this year to 'improve the health of the poorest, fastest.'

To this end he said local government would take back
responsibility for public health for the first time since the 1970s and
be handed more than 5billion a year to stem obesity, binge drinking
and smoking.

Local government will devise its own
schemes for promoting public health, though ministers favour ‘nudging’
people to make healthy choices by presenting them as social norms rather
than Labour’s ‘nanny state’ approach.

One example was the use of signs in shops
saying ‘most people who shop here buy at least two pieces of fruit’, a
tactic which proved effective in trials.

A spokesman from the Department of Health, said: 'We are working hard to tackle health inequalities.

'Additionally, the Health Act has given the NHS its first ever duties concerning the need to reduce health inequalities.'