August 24, 2006

Less educated women face greater heart risks

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Less educated women face a
greater risk of developing heart disease, research from Sweden
shows. This is largely because women with fewer years of
schooling are more likely to have heart disease risk factors
such as cigarette smoking, sedentary lifestyle, high body mass
index, high blood pressure and diabetes, researchers report.

There is a well-established link between lower
socioeconomic status and higher heart disease risk among men,
the research team notes in the American Journal of
Epidemiology. A number of causes have been proposed for the
connection, including that less educated, poorer people may
have unhealthier lifestyles or less access to medical care, or
that they may face more on-the-job stress.

To investigate the relationship between social status and
heart disease in women, Dr. Hannah Kuper of the London School
of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the UK and colleagues
analyzed data from a study of 49,259 women who ranged in age
from 30 to 50 at the study's outset in 1991-1992 and had been
followed for an average of 11 years.

Women with the least education were more than three times
as likely as those with the most years of schooling to have a
heart attack during the follow-up period, the researchers
found. Nearly all of this relationship could be attributed to
the higher prevalence of heart disease risk factors such as
smoking and overweight among the less educated women.

The researchers also found a weak relationship between
increased job stress and lower social support on the job and
heart disease risk, but this relationship could not account for
the heart disease-education link.

They conclude: "A health promotion campaign aimed at
reducing the prevalence of established coronary risk factors
such as smoking in lower educational groups may reduce the
population incidence of coronary heart disease, although other
correlates of low education need further investigation."

SOURCE: American Journal of Epidemiology, August 15, 2006.