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Health inequality gap widens

The number of people engaging in “multiple unhealthy lifestyle behaviours” has fallen, a report shows.

Yet the health inequalities gap is widening as much of this fall has come from higher socio-economic and better educated groups.

The report by think tank The King's Fund analysed data from the Health Survey for England to map the levels of smoking, excessive drinking, poor diet and lack of exercise between 2003 and 2008.

It was found the proportion of the population engaging in three or four of the unhealthy behaviours fell by 8% over the five-year period - down from 33% to 25%.

However, 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 are five times more likely to engage in all four behaviours than better educated groups, compared to only three times as likely in 2003.

“Our research highlights an unsung public health success - a reduction in multiple unhealthy lifestyle behaviours among the general population,” said David Buck, Senior Fellow at The King's Fund and lead author of the report.
“However, the lack of progress among lower socio-economic and educational groups is worrying and has exacerbated health inequalities.

“If the government is serious about improving the health of the poorest fastest, it must focus on reducing multiple unhealthy risky behaviours among the poorest groups, rather than only relying on focused on single behaviours.”

The thinktank has urged public health policy makers to focus more on tackling multiple behaviours and targeting those in lower socio-economic and educational groups.

Why do you think the health inequality gap is widening?