Health Inequality Gap Widening

A recent study, published in The Lancet, offers evidence that health and wealth are connected. Not only are they related, but the trends in health and wealth are pointing towards a health care disaster as the inequality gap widens.

The study, led by Dr. Frank Elgar, psychiatry professor at McGill University in Quebec, Canada, measured and monitored a variety of categories over a period of 8 years, from 2002-2010. They monitored physical activity, body mass index (BMI) psychological symptoms, physical symptoms and sleep habits.

To ensure they received the data they needed, they studied almost half a million adolescents from 34 different countries. What they found was unsettling.

Over the eight year time period, they found that adolescents from the poorer socioeconomic group were more likely to be in poor health. Not only that, but the gap in quality of health between the less-fortunate and the wealthy was much bigger at the end of the study than at the beginning.

What this means is that, as time goes by, those with less money will become less and less healthier. Dr. Elgar found this information quite disconcerting and seemed to believe it called for action to counteract this trend. “If health inequalities are now widening in such abundantly rich countries, particularly during the so-called ‘healthy years’ of adolescence, then these trends are especially alarming for future population health,” Dr. Elgar said.

“Our results also point to policy options for governments that could help reduce health inequalities early in the life course, such as reducing economic inequality or investing in the health of disadvantaged youth. To improve health and reduce health disparities across the lifespan, a focus should be on social factors that affect the health and well-being of young people,” Dr. Elgar also said.

The trend of inequality in health and money requires addressing on a large scale. The richest 1% of the world is likely going to surpass the other 99% of the world’s population as early as next year (2016). This study is not the only study to show these kinds of results.

There are other studies showing that economic inequality is a determining factor in health, including the length of life, early death, obesity and infant mortality. Mental health is also a part of this inequality, falling into the same trend of physical health.

OxFam, a global organization that seeks to overcome poverty, hunger and injustice, reports that the wealthiest 80 people on the planet, have the same wealth as the poorest 50% of the rest of the world population combined. Just five years ago, in 2010, that number was 388 of the world’s richest people.

Some, like OxFam, call for governments around the world to make progress on “evening out” the wealth gap. The authors of the health inequality study also call for similar measures, stating that “Widening gaps in adolescent health could predict future inequalities in adult health and need urgent policy action.”
Not only does quality of life rely on a healthy body, but it also affects whether these adolescents can get an education, a job, and how long they will live. The authors of the study feel very strongly that this gap in health be addressed and made the focus of new policies, with further studies continuing to assess the status of the situation.

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