New report highlights higher rates of disease and death among Australia’s most disadvantaged

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.

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.


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