Headlines: January 24th, 2007



Closer working in major policy areas including health, education, housing, employment and taxation is the key to tackling the problem of health inequalities in Britain according to a new publication from the ESRC. “Developing the Evidence for Tackling Health Inequalities and Differential Effects,” was published to coincide with a seminar organised jointly with the Department of Health and says that in spite of big advances in health care and an overall improvement in people’s health there is still a yawning gap between different social groups.

The report points to serious differences between affluent and disadvantaged groups, including people from ethnic minority backgrounds, in obesity, high blood pressure, accidents and smoking. Poor health, its authors emphasise, is not just about individual bad habits, such as eating junk food, drugs, alcohol, smoking and failure to take exercise but often results from broader inequalities between rich and poor. The researchers say social disadvantage is linked to a poor start in life, leaving school early and poor living and working conditions in adult life.

Professor Hilary Graham from the University of York, who is leading the Department of Health’s Public Health Research Consortium, stressed the importance of including the right information when evaluating interventions in fields such as education, employment and crime, housing and child protection. This, she said, would provide a baseline for seeing which social initiatives were making a difference to the health gap. Meanwhile Professor Mike Kelly, Director of the Centre for Public Health Excellence at NICE, said a series of briefings on health inequalities and the effectiveness of interventions had been produced by the Health Development Agency but there were some surprising gaps in the evidence, including little review level evidence on sexual behaviour in young heterosexual men and its impact on rates of teenage fertility. There had also been little work on social exclusion and the transmission of HIV/AIDS.