The gap in heart disease deaths among over-65s in the wealthiest and poorest parts of the country has widened since the 1980s, with Yorkshire among the worst affected areas despite wider improvements in mortality rates, a new study has revealed.
Researchers from Imperial College London made the discovery after analysing mortality rates for men and women aged 30-64 and over 65 between 1982 and 2006.
The overall number of deaths from cardiovascular disease (CVD) has more than halved in England across the period.
But by looking at statistics from almost 8,000 electoral wards - believed to be a first - the academics found that the "health gap" between communities had widened among the elderly.
For men over 65, CVD deaths fell five times more in the best-performing one per cent of wards than in the worst-performing one per cent. For women, there was a 10-fold variation.
Heart disease mortality was worst in areas around Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham, parts of Yorkshire and the most deprived wards in London, including Newham, Hackney and Haringey.
The study, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, explained the results by saying that the worst-off wards fell into two groups.
First, there were wards primarily around large metropolitan cities in the North that started with disproportionately high heart disease death rates in the 1980s and failed to catch up, despite significant improvements. Secondly, there were those spread across England that started with low mortality rates but performed poorly and fell behind.
The authors of the study, which looked at figures only up to 2006, warned that the recent economic downturn, rising unemployment and austerity cuts may widen the gap further as poorer communities are hit hardest.