Rich-poor gap linked to heart disease: study

A surgery nurse is seen beside the heart beat monitor in the operating theatre of the Unfallkrankenhaus Berlin (UKB) hospital in Berlin February 29, 2008. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Reducing inequalities in income may also help to cut a growing number of cases of cardiovascular disease in rich and poor countries, researchers said on Wednesday.

Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for 17.5 million or almost one-third of all deaths in 2005, according to researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

“We found that nations with higher levels of income inequality had higher levels of morbidity and mortality from heart disease and of particular risk factors, including obesity,” Daniel Kim said in an email interview.

Although previous studies had examined the relationship between income inequality, life expectancy and deaths from all causes, few studies had specifically examined the relationship between income inequality and cardiovascular diseases, Kim explained.

Researchers used data gathered by the World Health Organization (WHO) from up to 78 countries to undertake the study, published in the journal Social Science & Medicine.

Their findings supported the hypothesis that income inequality has harmful effects on heart disease, which may be partly a result of its effects on risk factors including obesity, according to Kim.

“Compared to previous studies, we used a wider range of developing and developed countries, and measured income equality several years prior to the health outcomes for presumed effects,” Kim said.

Further research is needed to understand underlying mechanisms, but policies that reduce income inequality may provide a way to effectively fight cardiovascular disease globally, he added.

Reporting by Julie Mollins; editing by Patricia Reaney