Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Middle class people more likely to do what the do-gooders tell them

Whether that is what makes them healthier is not establshed, however

The middle classes are getting healthier by giving up bad habits as the less well-off fail to get the message, a report has found.

The increasing social class divide in health will put ‘unavoidable pressure’ on an already hard-pressed NHS, it says.

The report, from the influential King’s Fund health think-tank, says many poorer people are failing to give up habits such as smoking and eating junk food.

Researchers analysed official data from England covering four behaviours linked to disease and early death: smoking; excess alcohol use; poor diet and sedentary lifestyles.

These bad habits account for almost half the burden of ill health in developed countries and are linked to everything from heart problems and diabetes to cancer.

They found the number of people engaging in three or four of these risky behaviours fell from 33 per cent in 2003 to 25 per cent in 2008.

But the ‘significant’ change was very different among the social classes.  The report found ‘these reductions have been seen mainly among those in higher socioeconomic and educational groups’.

Those 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 health of the overall population will improve as a result of the decline in these behaviours, but the poorest and those with the least education will benefit least, leading to widening health inequalities and unavoidable pressure on the NHS’, the report says.

It found the better off someone was, the more likely they were to have begun living a healthier life during 2003-08 – when the Labour government embarked on a campaign for healthier living.

David Buck, a senior fellow at the King’s Fund who was head of health inequalities at the Department of Health until 2010, led the research.  He said: ‘The widening... gap is due to the improvement in those at the top, and, to a lesser degree, those in the middle, not because those at the bottom have got worse per se. They’re stuck in a rut.’

Those from poorer backgrounds or with less education are more likely to develop long-term conditions such as cancer and diabetes earlier and to experience them more severely, Mr Buck said. He added: ‘As well as this being a  public health problem, this does also store up problems for the NHS in future.’

The report warns about 70 per cent of adults in England still engage in two of the four habits.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has pledged to ‘improve the health of the poorest fastest’, with the better-off currently living seven years longer on average.

A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘We are working hard to tackle health inequalities – from next year, local authorities will receive a specific public health budget for the first time, targeted at the areas that need it most.’


An aspirin a day could help in fight against depression among the elderly

The effects found below were slight in absolute terms but the evidence for benefit from aspirin intake does seem wide-ranging

Taking an aspirin pill a day could help combat depression in the elderly.  Trials found a regular dose reduced the risk in sufferers by around 40 per cent.

It seems to work by lowering levels of homocysteine, an acid in the blood thought to increase the chances of heart attacks and strokes when levels are too high.

Now some scientists think excess homocysteine may also be a factor in poor mental health and that nearly one in six cases of depression in the elderly could be avoided by using aspirin to lower levels in the blood.

Up to 20 per cent of us suffer depression at some point in our lives, with women affected more than men.

And the elderly are at high risk because of the effect from declining health, bereavements and loneliness.

To test whether lowering homocysteine levels prevented depression, scientists at the University of Western Australia in Perth studied 3,700 men aged between 69 and 87 and monitored their medical records to see which ones had a history of depression.

They were also tested to see if they had raised levels of homocysteine. The findings, published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, showed men with excessive homocysteine levels were 60 per cent more likely to suffer with depression.

The report said: 'This study showed, for the first time, that aspirin is associated with a significantly lower risk of depression among older men with high homocysteine.'

Researchers say it is still not clear how homocysteine makes someone more susceptible to depression, but the men with high homocysteine who took a daily aspirin saw their risk of depression drop 43 per cent.

Taking vitamin B supplements, which can also lower homocysteine, did not have the same effect. US scientists recently discovered daily aspirin users are 16 per cent less likely to die if they develop any type of cancer.

Other studies suggest the drug can also cut the risk of prostate cancer by almost 30 per cent and bowel cancer by up to 60 per cent.

However aspirin can cause stomach bleeding in around one in a thousand patients.

Emer O’Neill, chief executive of the Depression Alliance, said although the research was ‘interesting’, patients should not change their treatment because of the findings.


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