Poor die earlier: National report

01/10/2010

A major new national study has found that Australians in the lowest socio-economic group die three years earlier than the rest of the nation.

The report – Health Lies in Wealth – has revealed that a person’s socio-economic status is the biggest single indicator of life expectancy and health status, and that the discrepancy has little to do with access to health services.

Released today by Catholic Health Australia (CHA), the population-wide study of Australians of working age found if people in the most disadvantaged areas had the same death rate as those in advantaged areas, then up to two-thirds of premature deaths would be prevented.

“The health gaps between the most disadvantaged and least disadvantaged socio-economic groups are often very large,” CHA CEO Martin Laverty said.

“This is not about access to health services. There is strong evidence that the social determinants of health – such as income level, housing status and education level – are the factors most responsible for health inequities. Those who are most disadvantaged are at least twice as likely to have a long term health condition, and in some cases up to four or five times more likely.”

The independent report was commissioned by CHA and written by the University of Canberra’s National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling.

Key findings include:

  • Average life expectancy from the lowest socio-economic group is 3.1 years lower than the highest socio-economic group
  • Up to 65 per cent of those living in public rental accommodation have long term health problems compared with only 15 per cent of home-owners
  • More than 60 per cent of men in jobless households report having a long term health condition or disability, and more than 40 per cent of women
  • Rates of obesity are around three times higher for those living in public housing, compared with home owners
  • The likelihood of being a high risk drinker for younger adults who left high school early is up to twice as high as for those with a tertiary qualification

“This report shows that policies targeting behavioural change do not work,” Mr Laverty said.

“Health reform in the last term of government focused on hospitals, not the drivers that cause people to end up in hospitals. With 75 public and private Catholic hospitals across Australia, we absolutely support the need for hospital reform – but we'd prefer to keep people out of hospital.

“As a sophisticated nation, health reform needs to also consider the social determinants of health by linking education, housing, and welfare policies to health outcomes.”

CHA calls on governments to:

  1. Adopt the World Health Organisation’s Social Determinants of Health framework
  2. Fund targeted preventive programs
  3. Fund Non Government Organisations to provide health promotion activities
  4. Actively support high school completion as a priority for those at risk of non-completion

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