Disadvantaged people at higher risk for ill health

Disadvantaged groups experience more severe and more long-term health problems than other Australians, according to a report released jointly by the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Health Inequalities in Australia: morbidity, health behaviours, risk factors and health services use, looks at where people live, their income, education and occupation, and finds that being disadvantaged puts people at much higher risk for health problems.

The report found that people living in the most disadvantaged areas visited the G.P. more often than other Australians, but made significantly fewer visits to dentists or medical specialists.

'Disadvantaged women are much less likely than their better-off counterparts to undergo early diagnostic tests for breast or cervical cancer, for example,' said report co-author Dr Gavin Turrell, of QUT's Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation.

He added that disadvantaged people were more likely to engage in risky health behaviours in general, with exposure to the sun, obesity and smoking just some of the health risk factors examined in the report.

In 2001, girls aged 14 years or under from the lowest income families were almost three times less likely to use sun protection (sunscreen, protective clothing, sunglasses or an umbrella) than their high-income-family counterparts.

In 2001 both men and women working in blue-collar occupations were significantly more likely to be obese, with rates for men 21 % higher than their professional counterparts. Rates for women were 63 % higher.

'Regarding smoking, men and women aged 25 to 64 with no tertiary education were two to three times more likely to smoke than men and women with a university degree.

'Measures to address these significant health inequalities could include improved living and working conditions, community involvement in health initiatives and changing health damaging behaviours,' Dr Turrell said.

7 April 2006

Further information: Dr Gavin Turrell, QUT, tel. 07 3864 8285, or Mr Michael de Looper, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1137

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. 61 2 6244 1032.