Using data from the 2007–08 National Health Survey (NHS), the effect of social factors on four measures of health status (self-reported health status; cancer; heart, stroke and vascular diseases; and Type 2 diabetes) and three health risk factors (smoking, alcohol consumption and body weight) is examined. Two different statistical methods (univariate and multivariate analysis) were used to examine associations between social factors and the selected diseases and risk factors.

Where people are born, grow, live, work and age affects their health status (Marmot 2004). This paper is an initial exploration to investigate the association between selected social factors and health status. Despite the data limitations, it shows some statistical associations between selected socioeconomic characteristics (social factors) and health conditions and health risk factors.

The social factors investigated were post-school qualification, equivalised household income (income adjusted for the size of the household), occupation category, remoteness and language spoken at home. The effect of sex and age on health status was also investigated.

Using the NHS data, it was found that:

  • Household income : A health status contrast was observed between the highest and lowest income households, with Australian adults from the lowest income households less likely to report having excellent or very good health than adults from high-income households.
  • Post-school qualifications : People having a bachelor degree or higher qualification were less likely to report smoking and risky alcohol consumption than those without this level of education.
  • Occupation : Managers/professionals were less likely to smoke but more likely to engage in risky alcohol consumption than people who were unemployed or not in the labour force.
  • Remoteness : There was little significant effect of geographical location for any of the health status or health risk factor variables, except for unhealthy body weight and self-reported health status. People living in Inner regional areas were more likely to report excellent or very good health status than people living in Major cities. People living outside of Major cities were more likely to report unhealthy body weight than people living in Major cities.
  • Language spoken at home : People who spoke mainly English at home had a higher prevalence of heart, stroke and vascular diseases and a lower prevalence of Type 2 diabetes than people who spoke another language at home. People who spoke mainly English at home were more likely than those who didn’t to smoke, consume risky levels of alcohol and have an unhealthy body weight.

Based on this analysis, increasing age was the strongest predictor for the selected measures of health status and the health risk factors. There are observed social gradients for many health factors and health risk factors, although most are influenced by other factors, such as age. These findings will inform future work and more detailed analysis using additional data sources.