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News archive - September 2012

Health initiatives are working but inequalities have widened

Health initiatives are working but inequalities have widened

THE POOREST are left behind in the fight against unhealthy lifestyles, according to the King’s Fund.

Whilst the proportion of people engaging in multiple unhealthy lifestyle behaviours has fallen significantly, almost all the improvement has been among higher socio-economic and better educated groups, exacerbating health inequalities.

The King’s Fund studied changes in the clustering of four key lifestyle behaviours - smoking, excessive drinking, poor diet and lack of exercise - between 2003 and 2008. It found that the proportion of the population engaging in three or four of these behaviours fell by 8% over the period (from 33% to 25%). This suggests that public health initiatives have been important in improving health among the population as a whole. However, the initiatives failed to impact upon lower socio-economic groups during this period. The proportion of manual workers and people with no qualifications engaging in all four behaviours remained unchanged.

As a result, the gap between higher and lower socio-economic groups has widened. Those with no qualifications were five times more likely to engage in all four behaviours than better educated groups, compared to only three times as likely in 2003.

While noting the successes of public health initiatives, the report suggests that they have focused too much on tackling individual behaviours. It recommends public health policy should focus more on tackling multiple behaviours and targeting those in lower socio-economic and educational groups.

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