WITH the debate on Ballymoney’s grim heart disease rates a hot topic in recent weeks, a number of people have contacted the Times to express their bewilderment at how things have suddenly gone from one extreme to the other.

On the one hand, the town is, according to a recent survey carried out by the British Heart Foundation (BHF), the most likely place to die from a heart attack and that people had the second highest coronary heart problems in the UK.

The figures were contained in the survey which showed that Ballymoney had 129 deaths per 100,000 over the last three years.

Contrast this with several years earlier when a survey carried out by the Institute of Public Health in Ireland, indicated that people living in Ballymoney had the longest life expectancy in Ireland.

Their quality of life was said to be so high that local men could expect to reach an average age of 78.1 years; while women could live, on average, to the grand old age of 82.4. The figures were considerably higher than the average life expectancy for the whole of Northern Ireland, which stands at 75.9 years for men, and 80.6 years for women.

Local Councillor Bill Kennedy emphasised that he was not challenging the figures of the BHF or the integrity of their survey, but he failed to understand just how, in a matter of five years, the town had gone from a positive situation to one which painted a poor picture of people’s lifestyle.

In 2008, the reason given for the longevity was the area’s relaxed lifestyle, its abundance of fresh air and its stress-free environment which made Ballymoney so life-prolonging.

At the time, locals pointed to a friendly town with great hospitality, excellent leisure and recreational amenities and the care extended to the elderly by the community.

Councillor Kennedy agreed and said he found it strange that there had been such negative publicity about the town following the heart disease statistics.

“This town has an abundance of sports-minded people. Take a look any weekend and you’ll find dozens of walkers, runners, cyclists and people using the Joey Dunlop Leisure Centre which is one of the best in the country - tens of thousands per month.

“Add to that the young people who play football, GAA, hockey, rugby and so on and it doesn’t strike me that the vast majority are wallowing in fatty foods,” he said.

Councillor Kennedy felt there had been far too much negative publicity about Ballymoney.

“Councillors, the Chamber of Commerce and others are doing their best under difficult circumstances. We need to strike a positive tone and do what we can to increase the volume of trade and encourage more businesses to invest in Ballymoney.

“It’s certainly not doom and gloom - far from it,” he stressed.

Several business people also joined the debate with the general view that local residents were no less healthy than any other town and that Ballymoney had little to apologise for in terms of health and lifestyle.