The number of people engaging in unhealthy behaviour
such as smoking, excessive drinking and physical inactivity has fallen ‘significantly’ in recent years, according to a new study.
But almost all the improvement has been among those from more affluent and educated groups, exacerbating health inequalities between the rich and poor.
Researchers from The King’s Fund analysed data relating to four key lifestyle behaviours – smoking, excessive drinking, poor diet and lack of exercise – in England between 2003 and 2008.
Their study found that the proportion of the population engaging in three or four of these behaviours fell from 33 per cent to 25 per cent over the five-year period – the equivalent of eight per cent.
Despite the marked drop, the statistics revealed that the proportion of manual workers and people with no qualifications engaging in all four behaviours was unchanged.
Those with no qualifications were also five times more likely to engage in all four behaviours than better educated groups in 2008.
This compared to only three times as likely in 2003, according to the data taken from the Health Survey for England.
The think-tank said the figures suggested that public health initiatives have been important in improving health as a whole.
But argued the schemes had failed to have an impact on those from lower socio-economic groups – creating an ever-growing health gap between England’s classes.
The report said: ‘The health of the overall population will improve as a result of the decline in these behaviours.
It added: ‘But the poorest and those with least education will benefit least, leading to widening inequalities and avoidable pressure on the NHS.’