According to the latest research poorer Australians die at least three years before their wealthy counterparts. The report entitled, “The Health Lies in Wealth” by the University of Canberra's National Centre for Social and Economic Modeling found that people in the lowest socio-economic group died on average at 79.6 years of age compared with 82.7 years for the highest socio-economic group. Factors that influence life expectancy include household income, work status, education level and support networks.
Catholic Health Australia chief executive Martin Laverty said, “The report indicates whether or not you completed school is a better predictor of if you will die of cardiovascular death than cholesterol, blood pressure and smoking combined.” The report represents data from 75 hospitals and more than 500 aged care services. The CHA commissioned this study which showed that 65 per cent of Australians in the lowest income group report a long-term health problem compared with just 15 per cent of the most wealthy. “So this is quite conclusively reminding us that income and socio-economic status unfortunately have a real impact on a person's health,” Mr Laverty said.
As a solution he thinks improvement in schooling and welfare support can equalize people. “Hospital reform is essential ... but we must also focus outside of the hospital door,” he said. He pointed out that health does not only mean nurses, doctors and hospitals. “We don't immediately think of vibrant childhoods, good schooling, satisfying work lives and fairness in income…Our thinking needs to change,” the report says.
Professor of public health at Adelaide's Flinders University Fran Baum also led a study from the World Health Organization that measured social determinants of health. “If we just focus on health services and trying to persuade people to change their behavior, all we're really doing is pulling people out of a river and providing an ambulance service…What social determinants say is that we have to go upstream and stop people falling in the river in the first place…It's very much about promoting health in a positive sense, preventing disease before people get sick, and as an investment it makes a lot of sense,” he said.
Father Frank Brennan, from the Australian Catholic University also said, “If you come from a poor, dysfunctional family without education, of course your health outcomes are going to be worse than if you are from a well-off, functional family which has a good education…But given this, we have got to have a stronger commitment as a society to getting equity in terms of the provision of services generally.”