New health 'atlas' reveals risk of illness across England and Wales

A new "health atlas" reveals striking differences in the risk of some diseases found in various parts of England and Wales.

The website - launched today by the Small Area Health Statistics Unit at Imperial College London - allows members of the public to search across the country or by postcode for the relative distribution of conditions such as heart disease, various forms of cancer as well as the impact from environmental hazards such as air pollution.

Here are some examples (dark brown indicates highest risk and purple indicates lowest risk):

Heart disease

Coronary heart disease (CHD) was biggest killer of people in England and Wales, leading to approximately 71,500 deaths in 2009 alone.

According to the data, the highest risks of CHD could be found in the north of England and south Wales.

The relative risk of CHD is shown for women (left) and men (right).
The relative risk of CHD is shown for women (left) and men (right). Credit: Small Area Health Statistics Unit

Liver cancer

While liver cancer is relatively rare in the UK, it is also usually fatal. Instances of the disease are often thought to be related to alcohol misuse or viral infection such as Hepatitis B or C.

There were approximately 3,500 cases diagnosed and 3,200 deaths from the disease in England and Wales in 2009, with men making up close to two-thirds of instances in both cases.

According to the data, there is a greater overall risk in the north-east and parts of south Wales, though men in London and Hampshire are also shown to be more at risk.

The risk of liver cancer is shown for women (left) and men (right)
The risk of liver cancer is shown for women (left) and men (right) Credit: Small Area Health Statistics Unit

Lung cancer

Lung cancer kills around 30,000 people a year in England and Wales, statistics show.

The health atlas indicates that people most at risk of the disease live in conurbations - joined up areas of urban towns or cities such as Greater London - or industrial areas such as the north-west and north-east.

This is thought to be due to smoking patterns in urban areas, as well as occupation risks such as asbestos exposure and, to a lesser extent, pollution.

The risk of lung cancer is shown for women (left) and men (right).
The risk of lung cancer is shown for women (left) and men (right). Credit: Small Area Health Statistics Unit

Air Pollution

Levels of pollution across England and Wales
A map showing levels of particulate matter pollution, with darker areas showing the highest levels Credit: Small Area Health Statistics Unit

The map above shows levels of particulate matter pollution, which can be be natural or man-made and is a complex mixture of liquid and solid, organic and inorganic substances in the atmosphere.

According the the Atlas, the highest levels were in cities and urban areas where transport is heaviest and an important determinant of outdoor air pollution concentrations.

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer risk by region shows beige areas with the highest risk and the lowest risk coloured mauve
Map showing the relative risk of developing breast cancer according to where you live. Credit: Small Area Health Statistics Unit

This map shows the risk among women of developing breast cancer, the UK's most common type of cancer, by region. Those at the highest risk according to the map are living in North Wales and parts of Southern England.

Skin Cancer (malignant melanoma)

Men in areas shaded in brown are at the highest risk of developing the disease and those in the purple areas are at the lowest risk
Map showing men with the highest risk of developing skin cancer across England and Wales Credit: Small Area Health Statistics Unit

The most dangerous form of skin cancer in the UK, malignant melanoma, is of greatest threat to those living in the South West of England. The cancer, which is on the rise across the UK with rates increasing five fold since the mid-1970's, is least likely to affect those living in Lincolnshire and South Eastern England.

The maps used Office for National Statistics data from a 25-year period, and there are separate maps for men and women. The fourteen conditions mapped were:

Useful links

The environment and health atlas

NHS choices: More information on health conditions

More health stories from ITV News