Cancer and heart disease are still the biggest killers in Halton. Unless we take urgent action to quit smoking, eat more healthily and take on board the concept of exercise, the borough is likely to lag behind the rest of the country. CLAIRE LANE speaks to the director of public health at Halton Primary Care Trust to find out how we can turn around the borough's appalling health record
SMOKING is largely to blame for frightening statistics which show cancer and heart disease rates are still much higher in Halton than anywhere else in the country.
According to Dr Daniel Seddon, the director for public health in Halton, the latest studies show that although cases of circulatory disease have dropped by a quarter in the last five years, death rates in the borough are still much worse than the UK average.
While Halton suffers from having the third highest all-ages death rate from cancer, lung cancer is currently the biggest killer among men and women compared to the rest of the country.
The report reveals that 30% of cancers and half of heart disease cases are diet related while the annual health costs of physical inactivity in England amounts to £8.2 billion a year.
In a disturbing insight into public health over the last year, the borough is also within the worst fifth of areas for life expectancy and for common causes of death and deprivation.
It is no coincidence that the highest death rates are found in the most socially deprived parts of Halton, including Riverside, Castlefields and Ditton.
Dr Seddon said: 'Smoking is a big issue that certainly causes a lot of problems with people's health, but there are a number of other health factors that need to be addressed.
'Exercise and diet are contributory factors to cancer. Although significant improvements have been made over the last five years, cancer rates and heart disease rates in Halton are still higher than the national average and unfortunately we're still not closing that gap.
'Although people are making moderate changes to their lifestyle we are not yet where we want to be and we're still falling behind the rest of the country.
'There are two aspects that we need to take into consideration and they are prevention and effectiveness.
'I strongly believe that prevention is better than cure and although medication does work, it is better to take action before it reaches that stage.'
Apart from the problem of smoking, traffic fumes and contaminated land are also issues that are addressed in the report and it is estimated that 15% of the borough's land is potentially contaminated.
'There is legislation in place to deal with contaminated land and we'll shortly be addressing air quality, but the effects on our health are from what we eat, how active we are and whether we smoke and drink,' said Dr Seddon.
Meanwhile, figures show residents are grossly overweight for their height, while drug taking and the misuse of substances such as heroin are responsible for 10 deaths per year.
Records also reveal that as many as 500 Halton residents are admitted to hospital as a consequence of drug misuse or overdose.
And up to 800 hospital admissions are directly caused by alcohol related illness.
The alarming figures have been compiled by Dr Seddon as part of the Annual Public Health Report 2004, which will soon be made available at GP surgeries in a bid to collectively address serious health issues.