Having a low income should be considered a major risk factor for poor health, based on a recent study that links low socioeconomic status to reduced life expectancy.
Published in The Lancet, this study explored the association between socioeconomic status and life expectancy. Socioeconomic status is a combination of education, income and occupation, and is one of the strongest predictors of health worldwide. However, experts argue that it’s often overlooked, especially in comparison to well-established risk factors like obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.
To help raise awareness, researchers analyzed data from 48 studies including more than 1.7 million adults from the UK, France, Switzerland, Portugal, Italy, Australia and the United States. Researchers used job titles like “landscaper” and “doctor” to estimate participants’ socioeconomic status. They then compared the impact of socioeconomic status on life expectancy with six major risk factors defined by the World Health Organization, including physical inactivity, smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and high alcohol intake.
What researchers found is that people with low socioeconomic status were almost 1.5 times more likely to die before the age of 85 than wealthier individuals. Researchers also found that low socioeconomic status shaves more years off of life expectancy than high blood pressure, obesity and high alcohol consumption. For instance, low socioeconomic status reduced life expectancy by 2.1 years, while high blood pressure reduced life expectancy by 1.6 years. However, low socioeconomic status did not have quite as big of an impact on life expectancy as smoking and diabetes, which reduced life expectancy by 4.8 and 3.9 years, respectively.
“Given the huge impact of socioeconomic status on health, it’s vital that governments accept it as a major risk factor and stop excluding it from health policy,” said lead author Dr. Silvia Stringhini of Lausanne University Hospital, Switzerland. “Reducing poverty, improving education and creating safe home, school and work environments are central to overcoming the impact of socioeconomic deprivation. By doing this, socioeconomic status could be targeted and improved, leading to better wealth and health for many.”
Authors note that their study does have limitations, as using job title is not a perfect measure of socioeconomic status. However, findings help raise awareness for the impact that income and education have on health outcomes. Authors hope that in time, socioeconomic status will be added to the list of risk factors that should be addressed to improve public health.