Ten million Australians in low socio-economic brackets are at high risk of dying early from chronic disease, an alarming snapshot of the nation’s health shows.
Australia’s Health Tracker by Socio-Economic Status, a new report from the Australian Health Policy Collaboration at Victoria University, shows close links between socio-economic disadvantage and poor health as the gap widens between the haves and have-nots.
Health divide & chronic disease
AHPC Director Rosemary Calder said the health divide in relation to chronic disease and risk factors is stark.
People in lower SES brackets have higher risks of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and depression.
Australians in the lowest SES bracket have these increased risks:
- four times more likely to die from diabetes
- three times more likely to die from a respiratory disease
- two-and-a-half times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease
- seventy per cent more likely to suicide
- sixty per cent more likely to die from cancer.
“Being socially and economically disadvantaged is not only bad for your health it’s also much more likely to kill you,” Professor Calder said. “Our report shows not everyone has a fair go at living a long, healthy and prosperous life.”
“Australia’s Health Tracker by Socio-Economic Status is not just about the health of communities who are most disadvantaged. It alarmingly shows that the health of 40 per cent of Australians with low incomes – the working poor – is in jeopardy.”
Those often referred to as the ‘working poor’ are at much greater risk of poor health, more likely to be obese, less likely to do exercise and much more likely to smoke, Professor Calder said.
“This is the story here, we are seeing working families struggle due to skyrocketing costs of housing, utilities, and food. And this is having a significant effect on their health outcomes,” she said.
Chronic disease claimed the lives of 49,227 people before the age of 75 in lower socio-economic groups in the past four years – more than the capacity of the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Wealthy also at risk
But it’s not just the disadvantaged at risk. Australia’s Health Tracker data also shows alcohol is being consumed at risky levels in higher socio-economic groups.
High cholesterol is another risk factor that affects the advantaged while rates of high blood pressure are evenly spread across all socio-economic groups.
Health policy falling short
While low socio-economic status is a known major risk factor for chronic disease and premature death, Professor Calder said it not addressed in health policy and programs.
“As a society, we have been failing to provide health care for those who need it most, and we are literally letting them die,” she said. “We need policies which address the health impacts of social and economic conditions to contribute to a prosperous, productive and healthy nation.”
One in two Australians have a chronic disease – may have more than one – but almost a third of chronic disease impact could be prevented by reducing risk factors such as smoking, obesity, alcohol use, high blood pressure and physical inactivity.
(Source: Victoria University)