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How many US deaths are caused by poverty, low levels of education and other social factors?
Date:6/16/2011

How researchers classify and quantify causes of death across a population has evolved in recent decades. In addition to long-recognized physiological causes such as heart attack and cancer, the role of behavioral factorsincluding smoking, dietary patterns and inactivitybegan to be quantified in the 1990s. More recent research has begun to look at the contribution of social factors to U.S. mortality. In the first comprehensive analysis of such studies, researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health found that poverty, low levels of education, poor social support and other social factors contribute about as many deaths in the U.S. as such familiar causes as heart attacks, strokes and lung cancer.

The full study findings are published online ahead of print in the American Journal of Public Health.

The research team, led by Sandro Galea, MD, DrPH, chair of the Mailman School Department of Epidemiology, estimated the number of U.S. deaths attributable to social factors using a systematic review of the available literature combined with vital statistics data. They conducted a MEDLINE search for all English-language articles published between 1980 and 2007 with estimates of the relation between social factors and adult all-cause mortality. Ultimately they considered 47 studies for meta-analysis. After calculating for the relative risks of mortality from social factors, researchers obtained prevalence estimates for each social factor using primarily Census Bureau data. Individual social factors included education, poverty, health insurance status, employment status and job stress, social support, racism or discrimination, housing conditions and early childhood stressors. Area-level social factors included area-level poverty, income inequality, deteriorating built environment, racial segregation, crime and violence, social capital and availability of open or green spaces.

The investigators found that approximate
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Contact: Stephanie Berger
sb2247@columbia.edu
212-305-4372
Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health
Source:Eurekalert

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