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Researchers establish link between cold climates, poor housing and high blood pressure


For immediate release
Wednesday 21 August 2002

People living in the north and west of Britain in poor quality housing are at a significantly greater risk of high blood pressure than those living in warmer climates, and better quality housing, say scientists today.

The research, published recently in the International Journal of Epidemiology, shows how scientists from Imperial College London, the University of Edinburgh and University College London identified an inverse housing law in Britain, whereby people in colder climates such as the north and the west were on average a third more likely to live in poorer quality housing than those in the south and the east.

The researchers discovered a link between the inverse housing law, and the risk of high blood pressure. Those who lived in colder climates, in poor quality housing, could be up to 45 per cent more likely to develop high blood pressure.

Dr David Blane, from Imperial College London at Charing Cross Hospital, says: This research has shown that there is a serious problem with a significant proportion of the housing stock in Britain. Those living in the worst climates are often also in the poorest quality housing. Many of the houses in the north and west of Britain, have been identified as being of poor quality.

The findings of this study show how long term exposure to an adverse environment, can have a serious impact on health. The widespread existence of poor quality housing, unable to fully protect against the Britains climate, has been shown to have a significant impact on health. It is not possible to alter Britains climate, but an investment in housing may provide considerable health benefits.

High blood pressure is defined in an adult as a blood pressure greater than or equal to 140 mm Hg systolic pressure or greater than or equal to 90 mm Hg diastolic pressure. If untreated, high blood pressure increases the risk of coronary heart attack and stroke.

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For more information, please contact:

Tony Stephenson
Imperial College Press Office
Tel: +44 (0)20 7594 6712
Mobile: +44 07753 739766
E-mail: at.stephenson@imperial.ac.uk

Notes to editors:

1. Elevated risk of high blood pressure: climate and the inverse housing law. International Journal of Epidemiology 2002;31:831-838.

2. The researchers conducted a cross-sectional observational study based on Britain. Data came from the 5663 Health and Lifestyle Survey (HALS) participants for whom all relevant items are available. A two-stage study design was employed. First, the relationship between exposure to colder climate and housing quality was established. Second, the impact on risk of hypertension was determined for level of exposure to colder climate and housing quality.

3. Analysis confirmed that amongst survey respondents, those with greater exposure to colder climate are more likely (1.32, 95% CI: 1.18-1.12) to live in poor quality housing than those with lower exposure to colder climates. This combination of higher exposure to colder climates with residence in worse quality housing raises significantly the risk of diastolic hypertension (1.45, 95% CI: 1.18-1.77) and more weakly, systolic hypertension (1.25, 95%, CI 1.01-1.53)

4. On a population basis, it has been estimated that a reduction in diastolic blood pressure of 2mmHg would result in a 15 per cent reduction in risk of stroke and transient ischaemic attacks, and a six per cent reduction in risk of coronary heart disease. Coronary heart disease alone costs the NHS about £1600 million a year.

5. The authors comment that while Britain enjoys a relatively mild climate by northern European standards, it does get cold enough old enough to trigger adverse physiological reactions amongst those not properly protected from colder weather.

6. Consistently rated in the top three UK university institutions, Imperial College London is a world leading science-based university whose reputation for excellence in teaching and research attracts students (10,000) and staff (5,000) of the highest international quality. Innovative research at the College explores the interface between science, medicine, engineering and management and delivers practical solutions that enhance the quality of life and the environment - underpinned by a dynamic enterprise culture. Website: www.ic.ac.uk

The other authors included: Dr Richard Mitchell, Research Unit in Health Behaviour and Change, University of Edinburgh, Tel: 07976 814833, and Mel Bartley, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London.

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