Poor can’t break cycle of inferior health

MCGILL (CAN) — Canadians with less education and lower income begin life less healthy and remain that way over the course of their lives.

“What we found, basically, is that people who are more educated and with higher incomes have a better health-related quality of life over their whole lifespan, and that these health tracks stay pretty parallel over time,” says Nancy Ross, professor of geography at McGill University.

“The message there is that if you start out with a health-related quality of life deficit through early life experience and a poor educational background, it’s never made up for later on.

“Poorer Canadians are in poorer health and they have lower life expectancy than their more affluent counterparts, and by age 20 the pattern for health-related quality of life as people age is already fixed.”

There is some good news from the study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Those on the lower rung of the social ladder are not at any increased risk of accelerated aging, Ross says.

“The trajectories for declining health as people age look fairly similar across the social spectrum. That surprised me. I thought that there would be a bit more of a difference across social groups.

“We might speculate that universal health insurance and other social policies directed to adults and seniors have played a role in preventing accelerated decline in health-related quality of life of the poorer and less educated Canadians. Comparative research in other countries to test this more fully is needed.

“But this study suggests the need for policies aimed at making sure kids and teens are given the chances early in life to even out socio-economic inequalities that will affect their health as they age.”

The study analyzed data gathered from 17,000 Canadians who were asked about their health seven times over a period of 16 years, between 1994/1995 and 2006/2007, by the National Population Health Survey.

The research was funded by the National Institute on Aging, the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, and the Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec.

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