THE average age of stroke victims is falling as obesity levels worsen, with four in 10 cases now suffering their first attack in middle age.
Health officials last night urged men and women in their 40s and 50s to overhaul their daily habits.
Public Health England (PHE) said poor diet, alcohol and smoking were putting millions at risk of suffering the deadly traumas normally associated with old age.
The new data show that 38 per cent of first strokes are now happening between the ages of 40 and 69, with the average age dropping almost three years in a decade.
Elderly people remain the most vulnerable to strokes, which are deadly in half of cases and leave half of all survivors with disability. But the new figures show that, in the past decade, the average age for first stroke has dropped from 71 to 68 among men, and from 75 to 73 in women.
Senior doctors said Britain’s obesity epidemic, with two in three adults now overweight or obese, was fuelling the number of patients who were vulnerable to stroke in mid life.
They also raised concerns that those in middle age were less likely to recognise symptoms of a stroke – a medical condition that occurs when the blood supply to the brain is cut off – and to seek help quickly enough.
Professor Julia Verne, from PHE, urged those in middle age to undergo NHS health checks, and to take action to slim down waistlines and take medication for high blood pressure. “Four in 10 new strokes are occurring in the age group 40 to 69 – that’s 22,000 new strokes per year,” she said.
High blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes are among the main risk factors, and all are fuelled by excess weight, alcohol and smoking.
While smoking is the biggest risk factor, levels have fallen in recent decades. Meanwhile, obesity levels have risen sharply, with 25 per cent of adults now obese, compared with three per cent in the Seventies.
“Obesity is the one we are most worried about,” Prof Verne said.
One in six people in the UK will suffer a stroke in their lifetime. It is the third most common cause of premature death.
Health officials urged those aged between 40 and 74 to undergo an NHS Health Check at their local GP practice, and take steps to reduce risk.
“Know your numbers,” said Prof Verne. “In particular, your blood pressure. If it’s only slightly raised, it might be about losing weight or exercising. If you have diabetes, it is about managing that well.”
Officials said the lowering of the average age of stroke might also be related to improvements in treating risk factors among older age groups.
The figures show that in 2016, 57,000 people had a first stroke in England, with around 30,000 deaths.
Officials are publicising the Act FAST stroke campaign, which urges the public to call 999 if they notice any of these signs of stroke in themselves or others: Face – has their face fallen on one side? Can they smile? Arms – can they raise both their arms and keep them there? Speech – is their speech slurred? Time – time to call 999.
Steve Brine, a health minister, said: “Strokes still claim thousands of lives each year, so the message of this Act FAST campaign remains as relevant as ever. The faster you act, the greater the chance of a good recovery.
“That’s why I’m urging everybody to familiarise themselves with the signs of a stroke and be ready to act fast.”