Editorial: health outcomes are worst for the poorest

A new national report released on Tuesday has shined a spotlight on one of the most pressing issues for Australia – the association of economic circumstances with rising levels of poor health of largest segments of Australian population. 

Australia’s Health Tracker by Socio-economic status is a report from the Australian Health Policy Collaboration out of Victoria University in Melbourne.

The report presents a national level snapshot of the impact of socio-economic status on risk factors for chronic diseases, on levels of chronic diseases and on premature deaths from chronic diseases. 

The data in the report shows the poorest 10 million Australians are at much greater risk of poor health than the rest of the population.

There is a direct connect between health and wealth and also a vicious circle at work.

Chronic diseases such as arthritis, heart disease, back pain, mental health and cancer affect employment, education and community participation, leading to fewer opportunities to improve income and family circumstances.

Cost of living pressures, including the cost of essentials such as housing, food and energy, are more intense for people with less household income and time pressures caused by work, family and carer duties and other commitments can have a significant impact on diet and exercise.

As a result a chronic disease is much more likely to kill people in the lower two socio-economic quintiles. 

Almost a third of instances could be address by removing exposure to risks yet only 1.3% of our health budgets are spent on prevention.

Government action is crucial to prevent chronic diseases regardless of socio-economic status, improve health across the life-course, and help prevent unnecessary deaths.

Failure to tackle the health of Australians affected by disadvantage will result in rising costs and burden on health services, widening existing health disparities and have to manage higher rates of hospital admissions for preventable causes.

The most disadvantaged Australians are at greatest risk of serious life-threatening health problems – Derek Barry