Unit 4 > Risks to health and well-being


Very few conditions are caused by genes alone.  Most of them are caused by a combination of genes and the environment, including lifestyle factors (such as diet and exercise) and socio – economic factors(such as where someone lives and their income).  There are many gene variations that may slightly increase or decrease the risk for a condition.  However, across a number of genes this can add up to some individuals being at more risk than the average.  The risk may be reduced by changing environmental and lifestyle factors.  Genes make it more likely that an individual may develop certain conditions but the likelihood is also closely linked to lifestyle factors.  They are linked because a particular gene may be sensitive to an environmental factor.  For example:

  • Coronary heart disease can run in families, in conjunction with  a poor diet, smoking and lack of exercise the risk of developing the condition is increased.
  • Smoking cigarettes increases the risk of still births, miscarriage and premature birth.

Advances in medical care means that those individuals with health problems are able to live longer.  This creates problems for the healthcare services to provide care and being able to afford the extended care.

Current thinking about health in the UK is to prevent illness rather than just cure it.  Dr. Steve Ryan, Alderhey children’s hospital, says that ‘people should look after themselves instead of others looking after them’.  He believes that resources in the NHS are being diverted away from dealing with serious conditions to deal with preventable illnesses.   He feels that a great deal of money and time is spent tackling conditions that could be avoided, prevented.

Over the past hundred years the government has tried to prevent disease by reducing  some  factors over which the individual has no control and  raising awareness of health behaviours the individuals can control.

Factors individuals can’t control

Environmental  - pollution of air and water

Social – availability of adequate housing

Economic –  income

Genetic –  diseases and disorders

Factors individuals can control

  • Lifestyle
  • Use of tobacco
  • Consumption of alcohol
  • Overeating
  • Amount of exercise
  • Eating fatty foods