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Life Often Shorter for the Homeless: Study

TUESDAY, June 14 (HealthDay News) -- Homeless people have higher death rates and a much lower life expectancy than other people, a new Danish study finds.

The analysis of data from 32,711 homeless people (23,040 men, 9,671 women), aged 16 and older, in a nationwide homeless register in Denmark found that the death rate for homeless women was 6.7 times higher than for the general population and the death rate for homeless men was 5.6 times higher.

Compared to the general population, the life expectancy for homeless people aged 15 to 24 was 22 years less for men and 17 years less for women, according to the study published in the June 14 online edition of The Lancet.

The researchers also found that 62 percent of homeless men and 58 percent of homeless women had psychiatric disorders, and 49 percent of the men and about 37 percent of the women had a substance abuse diagnosis.

Substance abuse was the diagnosis associated with the highest risk of death -- a 70 percent increased risk of death for homeless women and a 40 percent increased risk of death for homeless men, the investigators found. External factors such as violence and suicide accounted for 28 percent of deaths among those who were homeless.

"There was a larger disparity in life expectancy between the homeless shelter population and the general population than previous studies have found. Cause-specific standardized mortality ratios for both sexes showed high excess mortality by suicide and unintentional injuries," wrote Sandra Feodor Nielson, of the Mental Health Centre in Copenhagen, and colleagues in a journal news release.

"This study suggests that homeless people living in shelters constitute a high-risk population in a public health perspective. This study underlines that this marginalized population needs more attention on the health agenda," the study authors concluded.

More information

The U.S. Homelessness Resource Center has information to help those who are homeless in the United States.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: The Lancet, news release, June 13, 2011

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