- Close to half of the burden of illness in developed countries is associated with the four main unhealthy behaviours: smoking, excessive consumption of alcohol, poor diet and low levels of physical activity. It is well known that each of these lifestyle risk factors is unequally distributed in the population and that these behaviours are differentially associated with income, educational achievement and social class.
- The overall proportion of the English population that engages in three or four unhealthy behaviours has declined significantly, from around 33 per cent of the population in 2003, to 25 per cent in 2008.
- These reductions have been seen mainly among those in higher socio-economic and educational groups: people with no qualifications were more than five times as likely as those with higher education to engage in all four poor behaviours in 2008, compared with only 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 least education will benefit least, leading to widening inequalities and avoidable pressure on the NHS.