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Study finds recent trend of growing US disparities in health not inevitable
Date:2/25/2008

researchers looked at two measures of population health--rates of premature mortality (dying before the age of 65) and rates of infant death (dying before the age of 1)--during the period from 1960 to 2002. They measured both absolute and relative inequities. U.S. county mortality rates were ranked for different county income levels and for the total population as well as for U.S. whites and U.S. people of color.

The results showed that mortality rates declined among all county income groups. Between 1966 and 1980, absolute and relative inequities in premature mortality shrank, especially for people of color. After 1980, relative inequities increased, while absolute inequities stayed flat. The same trends were apparent for the inequities in infant death rates.

Quantifying the burden of socioeconomic and racial/ethnic inequities in premature mortality, the authors found that from 1960 to 2002, 14% of the white premature deaths and fully 30% of the premature deaths among people of color would not have occurred had all persons experienced the same yearly age-specific premature mortality rates as whites living in the most affluent counties.

By providing a more complete picture of the trends in mortality and disparities, the researchers are able to hypothesize about the findings. One possible explanation is that health inequities narrowed in the earlier period because of the positive effect of social programs in the 1960s, such as the War on Poverty, the establishment of Medicare, Medicaid and community health centers, and civil rights legislation. Starting in the 1980s, there was a general rollback in public health and antipoverty programs in the U.S., which would explain the widening and persistence of health disparities beginning in the 1980s.

The results are important, say the authors, because it provides an empirical basis to the view that health inequities can be lessened in a context of declining mortality rates. The public he
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Contact: Todd Datz
tdatz@hsph.harvard.edu
617-432-3952
Harvard School of Public Health
Source:Eurekalert

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