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      Social Determinants of Health in the United States: Addressing Major Health Inequality Trends for the Nation, 1935-2016


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          This study describes key population health concepts and examines major empirical trends in US health and healthcare inequalities from 1935 to 2016 according to important social determinants such as race/ethnicity, education, income, poverty, area deprivation, unemployment, housing, rural-urban residence, and geographic location.


          Long-term trend data from the National Vital Statistics System, National Health Interview Survey, National Survey of Children’s Health, American Community Survey, and Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System were used to examine racial/ethnic, socioeconomic, rural-urban, and geographic inequalities in health and health care. Life tables, age-adjusted rates, prevalence, and risk ratios were used to examine health differentials, which were tested for statistical significance at the 0.05 level.


          Life expectancy of Americans increased from 69.7 years in 1950 to 78.8 years in 2015. However, despite the overall improvement, substantial gender and racial/ethnic disparities remained. In 2015, life expectancy was highest for Asian/Pacific Islanders (87.7 years) and lowest for African-Americans (75.7 years). Life expectancy was lower in rural areas and varied from 74.5 years for men in rural areas to 82.4 years for women in large metro areas, with rural-urban disparities increasing during the 1990-2014 time period. Infant mortality rates declined dramatically during the past eight decades. However, racial disparities widened over time; in 2015, black infants had 2.3 times higher mortality than white infants (11.4 vs. 4.9 per 1,000 live births). Infant and child mortality was markedly higher in rural areas and poor communities. Black infants and children in poor, rural communities had nearly three times higher mortality rate compared to those in affluent, rural areas. Racial/ethnic, socioeconomic, and geographic disparities were particularly marked in mortality and/or morbidity from cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, COPD, HIV/AIDS, homicide, psychological distress, hypertension, smoking, obesity, and access to quality health care.

          Conclusions and Global Health Implications:

          Despite the overall health improvement, significant social disparities remain in a number of health indicators, most notably in life expectancy and infant mortality. Marked disparities in various health outcomes indicate the underlying significance of social determinants in disease prevention and health promotion and necessitate systematic and continued monitoring of health inequalities according to social factors. A multi-sectoral approach is needed to tackle persistent and widening health inequalities among Americans.

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          Most cited references41

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          Socioeconomic and Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Cancer Mortality, Incidence, and Survival in the United States, 1950–2014: Over Six Decades of Changing Patterns and Widening Inequalities

          We analyzed socioeconomic and racial/ethnic disparities in US mortality, incidence, and survival rates from all-cancers combined and major cancers from 1950 to 2014. Census-based deprivation indices were linked to national mortality and cancer data for area-based socioeconomic patterns in mortality, incidence, and survival. The National Longitudinal Mortality Study was used to analyze individual-level socioeconomic and racial/ethnic patterns in mortality. Rates, risk-ratios, least squares, log-linear, and Cox regression were used to examine trends and differentials. Socioeconomic patterns in all-cancer, lung, and colorectal cancer mortality changed dramatically over time. Individuals in more deprived areas or lower education and income groups had higher mortality and incidence rates than their more affluent counterparts, with excess risk being particularly marked for lung, colorectal, cervical, stomach, and liver cancer. Education and income inequalities in mortality from all-cancers, lung, prostate, and cervical cancer increased during 1979–2011. Socioeconomic inequalities in cancer mortality widened as mortality in lower socioeconomic groups/areas declined more slowly. Mortality was higher among Blacks and lower among Asian/Pacific Islanders and Hispanics than Whites. Cancer patient survival was significantly lower in more deprived neighborhoods and among most ethnic-minority groups. Cancer mortality and incidence disparities may reflect inequalities in smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, diet, alcohol use, screening, and treatment.
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            Widening rural-urban disparities in life expectancy, U.S., 1969-2009.

            There is limited research on rural-urban disparities in U.S. life expectancy. This study examined trends in rural-urban disparities in life expectancy at birth in the U.S. between 1969 and 2009. The 1969-2009 U.S. county-level mortality data linked to a rural-urban continuum measure were analyzed. Life expectancies were calculated by age, gender, and race for 3-year time periods between 1969 and 2004 and for 2005-2009 using standard life-table methodology. Differences in life expectancy were decomposed by age and cause of death. Life expectancy was inversely related to levels of rurality. In 2005-2009, those in large metropolitan areas had a life expectancy of 79.1 years, compared with 76.9 years in small urban towns and 76.7 years in rural areas. When stratified by gender, race, and income, life expectancy ranged from 67.7 years among poor black men in nonmetropolitan areas to 89.6 among poor Asian/Pacific Islander women in metropolitan areas. Rural-urban disparities widened over time. In 1969-1971, life expectancy was 0.4 years longer in metropolitan than in nonmetropolitan areas (70.9 vs 70.5 years). By 2005-2009, the life expectancy difference had increased to 2.0 years (78.8 vs 76.8 years). The rural poor and rural blacks currently experience survival probabilities that urban rich and urban whites enjoyed 4 decades earlier. Causes of death contributing most to the increasing rural-urban disparity and lower life expectancy in rural areas include heart disease, unintentional injuries, COPD, lung cancer, stroke, suicide, and diabetes. Between 1969 and 2009, residents in metropolitan areas experienced larger gains in life expectancy than those in nonmetropolitan areas, contributing to the widening gap. Published by American Journal of Preventive Medicine on behalf of American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
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              Widening socioeconomic inequalities in US life expectancy, 1980-2000.

              This study examines changes in the extent of inequalities in life expectancy at birth and other ages in the United States between 1980 and 2000 by gender and socioeconomic deprivation levels. A factor-based deprivation index consisting of 11 education, occupation, wealth, income distribution, unemployment, poverty, and housing quality indicators was used to define deprivation deciles, which were then linked to the US mortality data at the county-level. Life expectancy estimates were developed by age, gender, and deprivation levels for three 3 year time periods: 1980-82, 1989-91, and 1998-2000. Inequalities in life expectancy were measured by the absolute difference between the least-deprived group and each of the other deprivation deciles. Slope indices of inequality for each gender and time period were calculated by regressing life expectancy estimates on deprivation levels using weighted least squares models. Those in less-deprived groups experienced a longer life expectancy at each age than their counterparts in more-deprived groups. In 1980-82, the overall life expectancy at birth was 2.8 years longer for the least-deprived group than for the most-deprived group (75.8 vs 73.0 years). By 1998-2000, the absolute difference in life expectancy at birth had increased to 4.5 years (79.2 vs 74.7 years). The inequality indices also showed a substantial widening of the deprivation gradient in life expectancy during the study period for both males and females. Between 1980 and 2000, those in higher socioeconomic groups experienced larger gains in life expectancy than those in more-deprived groups, contributing to the widening gap.

                Author and article information

                Int J MCH AIDS
                Int J MCH AIDS
                International Journal of MCH and AIDS
                Global Health and Education Projects, Inc (USA )
                : 6
                : 2
                : 139-164
                [1 ]US Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Office of Health Equity, 5600 Fishers Lane, Rockville, MD 20857, USA
                Author notes
                [* ]Corresponding author email: gsingh@ 123456hrsa.gov
                Copyright: © 2017 Singh et al.

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

                Original Article

                social determinants,race/ethnicity,socioeconomic status,health disparities,life expectancy,leading causes of death,chronic disease,health care


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