Health

Rising wealth inequality tied to worse health among province’s poorest: study

The rising tide of Saskatchewan’s economic boom hasn’t lifted all boats equally, and has in fact coincided with increased mortality for the province’s poorest people, according to University of Saskatchewan researchers. “One way or another, we’re dealing with the costs of poverty,” said Cory Neudorf, lead author of a U…

The rising tide of Saskatchewan’s economic boom hasn’t lifted all boats equally, and has in fact coincided with increased mortality for the province’s poorest people, according to University of Saskatchewan researchers.

“One way or another, we’re dealing with the costs of poverty,” said Cory Neudorf, lead author of a U of S study aiming to paint a provincewide picture of health inequality in Saskatchewan. Neudorf is an associate professor in the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology in the College of Medicine.

Most health inequalities have either seen no change in recent years or are getting worse, he said.

The study looked at how five socioeconomic groups fared in various health outcomes, and generally found that the worse off people are financially, the higher their rates of a particular disease. The very poorest people, however, are particularly hard hit.

According to the study report:

  • “The evidence clearly shows large and increasing inequalities in income. It is striking that the lowest income quintile makes only $1 for each $7 made by the highest income quintile.”
  • “Mortality in the highest deprivation quintile has been consistently higher than mortality in the other quintiles, and it has been increasing over time.”
  • “Those residing in the most deprived areas had a 30 per cent greater chance of experiencing death compared to those residing in the highest income areas. Between 2001 and 2009 there was a 51 per cent increase in deaths in the most deprived quintile from 167 per 100,000 population in 2001 to 251 per 100,000 population in 2009.”

Neudorf said while the link between wealth and health outcomes runs both ways, the former mostly influences the latter. That can be due to people having less access to chronic disease management, while simply living in constant stress amplifies the effects of any specific condition.

During the boom, for example, “we saw a huge increase in the price of housing and commodities and food, so it actually became more difficult to live on a fixed income during a boom in the province,” Neudorf said.

Solutions do exist in health care, such as increases in disease prevention and health promotion — but research suggests the health care system accounts for only 20 per cent of a person’s health status, while social determinants account for 40 per cent.

“Simple things like investing in housing first initiatives and basic income could be perhaps the biggest impact we could have on improving health,” Neudorf said.

jcharlton@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/J_Charlton

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