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Social inequalities in self-rated health by age: Cross-sectional study of 22 457 middle-aged men and women

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      Abstract

      Background

      We investigate the association between occupational social class and self-rated health (SRH) at different ages in men and women.

      Methods

      Cross sectional population study of 22 457 men and women aged 39–79 years living in the general community in Norfolk, United Kingdom, recruited using general practice age-sex registers in 1993–1997. The relationship between self-rated health and social class was examined using logistic regression, with a poor or moderate rating as the outcome.

      Results

      The prevalence of poor or moderate (lower) self-rated health increased with increasing age in both men and women. There was a strong social class gradient: in manual classes, men and women under 50 years of age had a prevalence of lower self-rated health similar to that seen in men and women in non-manual social classes over 70 years old. Even after adjustment for age, educational status, and lifestyle factors (body mass index (BMI), smoking, physical activity and alcohol consumption) there was still strong evidence of a social gradient in self-rated health, with unskilled men and women approximately twice as likely to report lower self-rated health as professionals (OR men = 2.44 (95%CI 1.69, 3.50); OR women = 1.97 (95%CI 1.45, 2.68).

      Conclusion

      There was a strong gradient of decreased SRH with age in both men and women. We found a strong cross-sectional association between SRH and social class, which was independent of education and major health related behaviors. The social class differential in SRH was similar with age. Prospective studies to confirm this association should explore social and emotional as well as physical pathways to inequalities in self reported health.

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      Most cited references 39

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      Self-rated health and mortality: a review of twenty-seven community studies.

      We examine the growing number of studies of survey respondents' global self-ratings of health as predictors of mortality in longitudinal studies of representative community samples. Twenty-seven studies in U.S. and international journals show impressively consistent findings. Global self-rated health is an independent predictor of mortality in nearly all of the studies, despite the inclusion of numerous specific health status indicators and other relevant covariates known to predict mortality. We summarize and review these studies, consider various interpretations which could account for the association, and suggest several approaches to the next stage of research in this field.
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        Mortality prediction with a single general self-rated health question. A meta-analysis.

        Health planners and policy makers are increasingly asking for a feasible method to identify vulnerable persons with the greatest health needs. We conducted a systematic review of the association between a single item assessing general self-rated health (GSRH) and mortality. Systematic MEDLINE and EMBASE database searches for studies published from January 1966 to September 2003. Two investigators independently searched English language prospective, community-based cohort studies that reported (1) all-cause mortality, (2) a question assessing GSRH; and (3) an adjusted relative risk or equivalent. The investigators searched the citations to determine inclusion eligibility and abstracted data by following a standardized protocol. Of the 163 relevant studies identified, 22 cohorts met the inclusion criteria. Using a random effects model, compared with persons reporting "excellent" health status, the relative risk (95% confidence interval) for all-cause mortality was 1.23 [1.09, 1.39], 1.44 [1.21, 1.71], and 1.92 [1.64, 2.25] for those reporting "good,"fair," and "poor" health status, respectively. This relationship was robust in sensitivity analyses, limited to studies that adjusted for co-morbid illness, functional status, cognitive status, and depression, and across subgroups defined by gender and country of origin. Persons with "poor" self-rated health had a 2-fold higher mortality risk compared with persons with "excellent" self-rated health. Subjects' responses to a simple, single-item GSRH question maintained a strong association with mortality even after adjustment for key covariates such as functional status, depression, and co-morbidity.
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          Socioeconomic factors and cardiovascular disease: a review of the literature.

          Despite recent declines in mortality, cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death in the United States today. It appears that many of the major risk factors for coronary disease have been identified. Researchers are still learning about different modifiable factors that may influence cardiovascular diseases. Socioeconomic status may provide a new focus. The principal measures of SES have been education, occupation, and income or combinations of these. Education has been the most frequent measure because it does not usually change (as occupation or income might) after young adulthood, information about education can be obtained easily, and it is unlikely that poor health in adulthood influences level of education. However, other measures of SES have merit, and the most informative strategy would incorporate multiple indicators of SES. A variety of psychosocial measures--for example, certain aspects of occupational status--may be important mediators of SES and disease. The hypothesis that high job strain may adversely affect health status has a rational basis and is supported by evidence from a limited number of studies. There is a considerable body of evidence for a relation between socioeconomic factors and all-cause mortality. These findings have been replicated repeatedly for 80 years across measures of socioeconomic level and in geographically diverse populations. During 40 years of study there has been a consistent inverse relation between cardiovascular disease, primarily coronary heart disease, and many of the indicators of SES. Evidence for this relation has been derived from prevalence, prospective, and retrospective cohort studies. Of particular importance to the hypothesis that SES is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease was the finding by several investigators that the patterns of association of SES with coronary disease had changed in men during the past 30 to 40 years and that SES has been associated with the decline of coronary mortality since the mid-1960s. However, the declines in coronary mortality of the last few decades have not affected all segments of society equally. There is some evidence that areas with the poorest socioenvironmental conditions experience later onset in the decline in cardiovascular mortality. A number of studies suggest that poor living conditions in childhood and adolescence contribute to increased risk of arteriosclerosis. Some of these studies have been criticized because of their nature, and others for inadequate control of confounding factors.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)
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            Author and article information

            Affiliations
            [1 ]Institute of Public Health, University of Cambridge, UK
            [2 ]MRC Dunn Nutrition Unit, Cambridge, UK
            Contributors
            Journal
            BMC Public Health
            BMC Public Health
            BioMed Central
            1471-2458
            2008
            8 July 2008
            : 8
            : 230
            2491612
            1471-2458-8-230
            18611263
            10.1186/1471-2458-8-230
            Copyright © 2008 McFadden et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

            This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

            Categories
            Research Article

            Public health

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