Health Inequality Widening Along With Socioeconomic Disparity Worldwide

As socioeconomic disparities have grown through Europe and North America, so have mental and physical health inequalities, according to a new paper published in The Lancet.

As socioeconomic disparities have grown through Europe and North America, so have mental and physical health inequalities, according to a new paper published in The Lancet.

An international team of researchers, led by Frank Elgar, PhD, a psychiatry professor at McGill University in Quebec, Canada, examined the health of nearly half a million 11- to 15-year-olds in 34 countries between 2002 and 2012.

“A strong international focus on reducing child poverty and mortality in children under 5 years has not been matched by a similar response in older age groups, resulting in widening socioeconomic inequalities in adolescent health,” Dr Elgar said in a statement.

The researchers found that young people from the poorest socioeconomic groups were more likely to be less physically active with a larger body mass index and more physical and psychological symptoms, such as irritability or headaches.

Data for the study came from the World Health Organization Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children study. The participants were surveyed in 2002, 2006, and 2010, and their socioeconomic status was based on material assets and indicators of wealth, such as owning a car.

The difference in the amount of physical activity per week, body mass index, psychological symptoms, and physical symptoms between the least and most affluent groups all increased. The only inequality decrease reported was in life satisfaction.

“The many health and social problems that relate to income inequality and the current global trends in rising income inequality all lead to a grim prediction about future population health,” Dr Elgard said. “Urgent action is needed to tackle inequities in health in adolescence.”

Health inequalities in youth shape future disparities in education, employment, adult health, and life expectancy, according to Dr Elgar. As such, the authors suggest health policy look at tackling health inequalities across socioeconomic conditions.

“Just as economic policy looks beyond general economic growth to tackle the more insidious issue of income inequality, we propose that health policy needs to look beyond average levels of population health and disease prevalence to tackle unjust inequities in health across increasingly disparate socioeconomic conditions,” the authors wrote.