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Low Socioeconomic Status Linked to Reduced Life Expectancy

Laura Joszt
An analysis of 1.7 million men and women found that low socioeconomic status is linked to a reduction in life expectancy of 2.1 years between the ages of 40 and 85.
An analysis of 1.7 million men and women found that low socioeconomic status is linked to a reduction in life expectancy of 2.1 years between the ages of 40 and 85.

Researchers used data from Australia, France, Italy, Portugal, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States to compare the impact that low socioeconomic status has on health with other major risk factors, such as physical inactivity, smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and high alcohol intake. The data was collected from 48 studies and the researchers used a person’s job title to estimate socioeconomic status (something the authors noted was a study limitations). The study was published in The Lancet.

Unfortunately, socioeconomic factors tend to be overlooked in policies, according to the authors.

“Given the huge impact of socioeconomic status on health, it’s vital that governments accept it as a major risk factor and stop excluding it from health policy,” lead author Silvia Stringhini, PhD, of the Lausanne University Hospital in Switzerland, said in a statement. “Reducing poverty, improving education, and creating safe home, school, and work environments are central to overcoming the impact of socioeconomic deprivation.”

The authors used the example of the World Health Organization’s Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases. The plan aims to reduce noncommunicable diseases by 25% by 2025. It targets 7 major factors: harmful use of alcohol, insufficient activity, current tobacco use, high blood pressure, intake of salt or sodium, diabetes, and obesity. However, the plan omits socioeconomic status as a risk factor for these diseases.

People with low socioeconomic status were nearly 1.5 times more likely to die before age 85 compared with wealthier counterparts. High blood pressure, obesity, and high alcohol consumption were also associated with reductions in life expectancy, but to a lesser degree: reduction of 1.6 years for high blood pressure, 0.7 years for obesity, and 0.5 years for high alcohol consumption.

“Socioeconomic status is important because it is a summary measure of lifetime exposures to hazardous circumstances and behaviors, that goes beyond the risk factors for noncommunicable diseases that policies usually address,” said Paolo Vineis, MD, of Imperial College London. “Our study shows that it should be included alongside these conventional risk factors as a key risk factor for ill health.”

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