Researchers find link between Northampton shoppers with high blood pressure and our ‘unhealthy’ high street

Northampton was found to have one of the country's most unhealthy high streets in a study last year.
Northampton was found to have one of the country's most unhealthy high streets in a study last year.

A new study using pop-up health check stations found a possible link between ‘unhealthy’ high streets and the number of cases of suspected or diagnosed high blood pressure.

Researchers from City, University of London set up the one-day pop-up health check stations in seven towns across England - including Northampton - and invited passersby to have a test to screen for signs of the eye disease, glaucoma.

Blood pressure readings were also offered to 50 per cent of the potential volunteers too.

The university study classed retail outlets as ‘unhealthy’ if they were either a fast-food takeaway, a bookmaker, a tanning salon or a payday loan business.

This was in line with a Royal Society of Public Health (RSPH) report ranking UK town and cities based on their ‘unhealthy’ and ‘healthy’ retail outlets.

READ MORE: 'Disappointing but not surprising': Life expectancy in Northampton drops as high street named among unhealthiest in UK, according to new report

Shirley Cramer CBE, chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, said: “Our research into UK high streets illustrated how unhealthy businesses concentrate in areas already experiencing lower life expectancy, and this valuable new research explores in detail one of the many factors at play within this alarming trend.

"The least healthy shopping centres visited by the pop-up health check stations are all within some of the most socially deprived areas of the country, so the results of this study exemplify the stark health inequalities that are entrenched across the UK.

"Exposing and dismantling those health inequalities is a public health priority, and we welcome all promising opportunities for doing so.”

The researchers also produced a basic score of each shopping centre’s ‘unhealthiness’, which was the proportion of ‘unhealthy’ retail outlets open on the day of testing relative to the total number of retail outlets open in the shopping centre.

The pop-up health check stations were set up in four shopping centres from the top 10 ‘unhealthiest’ from the RSPH ranking, and three from the top 15 ‘healthiest’ in the ranking.

In the four ‘unhealthy’ shopping centres sampled - including Northampton - 45 out of 199 adults had readings of high blood pressure.

The difference in the proportion of readings of high blood pressure in ‘healthy’ versus ‘unhealthy’ shopping centres was also a statistically significant result.

There was a 72 per cent increased likelihood of suspected or diagnosed high blood pressure being reported in an ‘unhealthy’ shopping centre relative to a ‘healthy’ shopping centre.

Researchers do say the study, however, has its limitations, including pop-up health check station assessments not being able to offer a definitive diagnosis of high blood pressure.