England and Wales health atlas indicates illness risk

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A new website launched by Imperial College London’s Small Area Health Statistics offers a ‘health atlas’ which reveals the marked differences in the risk of disease in different parts of England and Wales.

The website allows users to search the country by postcode and obtain a view of the risks and health outcomes in that particular area.

The data is available at ward level which is neighbourhoods of about 6000 people. It was found that among these wards, 33 have shown a consistent pattern of lower than average health risks. Eight of the wards which have indicated high risks are Porthcawl East Central and Newton which are both situated in Bridgend, Flixton and Bucklow, both situated in Trafford, Church Village in Rhondda Cynon Taff, Tranmere in Wirral, Princess in Knowsley, and City and Holbeck in Leeds.

The data was collected and analysed by Imperial College London’s small area health statistics unit. This unit was set up the government during 1987 to allow for investigation into cancer cases in the area surrounding the Windscale nuclear plant which was later renamed Sellafield. At the time it found no link to the nuclear emissions. Since then the unit’s work included investigations into concerns raised about mobile phone network base stations. No link was found to increased cancer rates in the neighbourhoods.

The available maps indicate chlorination disinfection by-products, concentration of air pollution and agricultural pesticides. The printed version of the maps indicates sunshine levels and radon emissions. If the researchers are able to obtain more detailed ward-level information, it will be added.

Fourteen diseases have been mapped and higher concentrations are indicated in certain areas. An example of this is that skin cancer is higher in the south-west due to the higher sunshine levels.

In north-east England, the concentration of liver cancer is higher, as well as in parts of south Wales. The levels are higher for males in sections of Hampshire and Dorset, and in London. The director of the unit, Professor Paul Elliott, said that this may be due to the factors related to registration. The data is based on registries of the disease.

The unit hopes that this atlas will be helpful to the public and researchers. Dr Anna Hansell has stated that people will have the opportunity to observe the environmental risks in their area, but a connection to a particular disease cannot be proven simply from the local numbers. She stated that the information is not able to provide individuals with information about their personal chances of contracting a certain disease.

Suggestions that this information may affect local house has been brushed aside by the team. Only about five to 10% of the nation’s health problems are caused by environmental factors. The rest of it is determined by individual lifestyles.

Image Credit: Small Area Health Statistics Unit

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