” Most apparent are inequalities in chronic disease among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous Australians. Social and economic factors are estimated to account for slightly more than one-third (34%) of the ‘good health’ gap between the 2 groups, with health risk factors such as high blood pressure, smoking and risky alcohol consumption explaining another 19%, and 47% due to other, unexplained factors.
An estimated 11% of the total health gap can be attributed to the overlap, or interactions between the social determinants and health risk factors (AIHW 2018a).
Download the AIHW Report HERE aihw-cdk-12
‘By better understanding the role social inequality plays in chronic disease, governments at all levels can develop stronger, evidence based policies and programs aimed at preventing and managing these diseases, leading to better health outcomes across our community,’
AIHW spokesperson Dr Lynelle Moonn noted that these three diseases are common in Australia and, in addition to the personal costs to an individual’s health and quality of life, they have a significant economic burden in terms of healthcare costs and lost productivity
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“Government investment is essential to encourage health checks, improve understanding of the risk factors for chronic disease, and implement policies and programs to reduce chronic disease risk, particularly in areas of socioeconomic disadvantage,”
Chair of the Australian Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance Sharon McGowan said that the data revealed stark inequities in health status amongst Australians.
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The Australian Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance is calling on the Government to target these health disparities by increasing the focus on prevention and supporting targeted health checks to proactively manage risk.
AIHW Press Release
Social factors play an important role in a person’s likelihood of developing and dying from certain chronic diseases, according to a new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
The report, Indicators of socioeconomic inequalities in cardiovascular disease, diabetes and chronic kidney disease, examines the relationship between socioeconomic position, income, housing and education and the likelihood of developing and dying from several common chronic diseases—cardiovascular disease (which includes heart attack and stroke), diabetes and chronic kidney disease.
Above image NACCHO Library
The report reveals that social disadvantage in these areas is linked to higher rates of disease, as well as poorer outcomes, including a greater likelihood of dying.
‘Across the three chronic diseases we looked at—cardiovascular disease, diabetes and chronic kidney disease— we saw that people in the lowest of the 5 socioeconomic groups had, on average, higher rates of these diseases than those in the highest socioeconomic groups,’ said AIHW spokesperson Dr Lynelle Moon.
‘And unfortunately, we also found higher death rates from these diseases among people in the lowest socioeconomic groups.’
The greatest difference in death rates between socioeconomic groups was among people with diabetes.
‘For women in the lowest socioeconomic group, the rate of deaths in 2016 where diabetes was an underlying or associated cause of death was about 2.4 times as high as the rate for those in the highest socioeconomic group. For men, the death rate was 2.2 times as high,’ Dr Moon said.
‘Put another way, if everyone had the same chance of dying from these diseases as people in the highest socioeconomic group, in a one year period there would be 8,600 fewer deaths from cardiovascular disease, 6,900 fewer deaths from diabetes, and 4,800 fewer deaths from chronic kidney disease.’
Importantly, the report also suggests that in many instances the gap between those in the highest and lowest socioeconomic groups is growing.
‘For example, while the rate of death from cardiovascular disease has been falling across all socioeconomic groups, the rate has been falling more dramatically for men in the highest socioeconomic group—effectively widening the gap between groups,’ Dr Moon said.
The report also highlights the relationship between education and health, with higher levels of education linked to lower rates of disease and death.
‘If all Australians had the same rates of disease as those with a Bachelor’s degree or higher, there would have been 7,800 fewer deaths due to cardiovascular disease, 3,700 fewer deaths due to diabetes, and 2,000 fewer deaths due to chronic kidney disease in 2011–12,’ Dr Moon said.
Housing is another social factor where large inequalities are apparent. Data from 2011–12 shows that for women aged 25 and over, the rate of death from chronic kidney disease was 1.5 times as high for those living in rental properties compared with women living in properties they owned. For men, the rate was 1.4 times as high for those in rental properties.
Dr Moon noted that these three diseases are common in Australia and, in addition to the personal costs to an individual’s health and quality of life, they have a significant economic burden in terms of healthcare costs and lost productivity.
‘By better understanding the role social inequality plays in chronic disease, governments at all levels can develop stronger, evidence based policies and programs aimed at preventing and managing these diseases, leading to better health outcomes across our community,’ she said
Underlying causes of socioeconomic inequalities in health
There are various reasons why socioeconomically disadvantaged people experience poorer health. Evidence points to the close relationship between people’s health and the living and working conditions which form their social environment.
Factors such as socioeconomic position, early life, social exclusion, social capital, employment and work, housing and the residential environment— known collectively as the ‘social determinants of health’—can act to either strengthen or to undermine the health of individuals and communities (Wilkinson & Marmot 2003).
These social determinants play a key role in the incidence, treatment and outcomes of chronic diseases. Social determinants can be seen as ‘causes of the causes’—that is, as the foundational determinants which influence other health determinants such as individual lifestyles and exposure to behavioural and biological risk factors.
Socioeconomic factors influence chronic disease through multiple mechanisms. Socioeconomic disadvantage may adversely affect chronic disease risk through its impact on mental health, and in particular, on depression. Socioeconomic gradients exist for multiple health behaviours over the life course, including for smoking, overweight and obesity, and poor diet.
When combined, these unhealthy behaviours help explain much of the socioeconomic health gap. Current research also seeks to link social factors and biological processes which affect chronic disease. In CVD, for example, socioeconomic determinants of health have been associated with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, chronic stress responses and inflammation (Havranek et al. 2015).
The direction of causality of social determinants on health is not always one-way (Berkman et al. 2014). To illustrate, people with chronic conditions may have a reduced ability to earn an income; family members may reduce or cease employment to provide care for those who are ill; and people or families whose income is reduced may move to disadvantaged areas to access low-cost housing.
Action on social determinants is often seen as the most appropriate way to tackle unfair and avoidable socioeconomic inequalities. There are significant opportunities for reducing death and disability from CVD, diabetes and CKD through addressing their social determinants.
Australians as a whole enjoy good health, but the benefits are not shared equally by all. People who are socioeconomically disadvantaged have, on average, greater levels of cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes and chronic kidney disease (CKD).
This report uses latest available data to measure socioeconomic inequalities in the incidence, prevalence and mortality from these 3 diseases, and where possible, assess whether these inequalities are growing. Findings include that, in 2016:
- males aged 25 and over living in the lowest socioeconomic areas of Australia had a heart attack rate 1.55 times as high as males in the highest socioeconomic areas. For females, the disparity was even greater, at 1.76 times as high
- type 2 diabetes prevalence for females in the lowest socioeconomic areas was 2.07 times as high as for females in the highest socioeconomic areas. The prevalence for males was 1.70 times as high
- the rate of treated end-stage kidney disease for males in the lowest socioeconomic areas was 1.52 times as high as for males in the highest socioeconomic areas. The rate for females was 1.75 times as high
- the CVD death rate for males in the lowest socioeconomic areas was 1.52 times as high as for males in the highest socioeconomic areas. For females, the disparity was slightly less, at 1.33 times as high
- if all Australians had the same CVD death rate as people in the highest socioeconomic areas in 2016, the total CVD death rate would have declined by 25%, and there would have been 8,600 fewer deaths.
CVD death rates have declined for both males and females in all socioeconomic areas since 2001— however there have been greater falls for males in higher socioeconomic areas, and as a result, inequalities in male CVD death rates have grown.
- Both absolute and relative inequality in male CVD death rates increased—the rate difference increasing from 62 per 100,000 in 2001 to 78 per 100,000 in 2011, and the relative index of inequality (RII) from 0.25 in 2001 to 0.53 in 2016.
Often, the health outcomes affected by socioeconomic inequalities are greater when assessed by individual characteristics (such as income level or highest educational attainment), than by area.
- Inequalities in CVD death rates by highest education level in 2011–12 (RII = 1.05 for males and 1.05 for females) were greater than by socioeconomic area in 2011 (0.50 for males and 0.41 for females).
The impact on death rates of socioeconomic inequality was generally greater for diabetes and CKD than for CVD.
- In 2016, the diabetes death rate for females in the lowest socioeconomic areas was 2.39 times as high as for females in the highest socioeconomic areas. This compares to a ratio 1.75 times as high for CKD, and 1.33 for CVD. For males, the equivalent rate ratios were 2.18 (diabetes), 1.64 (CKD) and 1.52 (CVD).viii