Couch potatoes in poor areas at greater risk of premature death, study suggests

People living in deprived areas are at higher risk of premature death due to unhealthy habits such as long hours watching television, according to a study.

Researchers looked at the impact of previously studied behaviours such as smoking, diet and a lack of physical activity alongside newer factors of sleep duration and TV viewing time.

They found these habits left those living in areas of deprivation at greater risk of harm than others due to their contribution to conditions such as cardiovascular disease.

It suggests poorer populations are more vulnerable to the effects of a wider range of unhealthy lifestyle factors than previously recognised.

Frances Mair, lead author of the study, said: “This study is the first to highlight the disproportionate risk associated with a broad range of unhealthy lifestyle factors amongst more deprived socioeconomic groups.

“If this association is causal, it suggests that policies to improve a broader range of lifestyle factors amongst these groups could lead to substantial improvements in health outcomes.”

The authors of the study – led by the University of Glasgow – are now calling for a shift in government policy to reverse austerity and reduce poverty.

They consider those factors to be drivers of the “disproportionate” harm reported in their work.

Overweight person eating
Overweight person eating

Calls have also been made for more personal and public interventions that address this wider range of emerging lifestyle factors, with a focus on additional support in deprived areas.

First author Dr Hamish Foster said: “Based on the increased vulnerability seen in this study, deprived populations would continue to suffer worse outcomes even if there are similar levels of unhealthy lifestyle factors that are seen in more affluent populations.

“This clearly strengthens the arguments for government policies that tackle the up-stream causes of ill-health, aim to reduce poverty and for health policies that offer increased support in areas of deprivation.”

Dr Giota Mitrou, of World Cancer Research Fund, said: “The gap in health inequalities between deprived and wealthier areas, identified in this study, is a wake-up call.

“Governments have a responsibility to protect public health, regardless of socioeconomic status, and need to implement policies that make our environments healthier, enabling everyone – no matter where they live – to make healthier choices.

“Our research has also identified a link between unhealthy lifestyles and many different types of cancer — one such factor is increased screen time, which can lead to overweight and obesity, a known cause of 12 cancers.”