Diverging Demographics, Health Edition

diverging-demographics-flashFor years, economists have found that richer, better-educated people live longer than poorer, less-educated people. Indeed, a 2008 Robert Wood Johnson report found that education and income of the single- or dual-parent household that a child is born into plays a larger role in determining that child’s future health than having (or not having) health insurance.

Poor diet, smoking and insufficient preventative medicine are among the prime causes of this disparity. For example, parents with lower incomes and educational levels are more likely than higher-paid, better-educated parents to have teenage children who smoke.

And out today is more proof that demographics continue to diverge when it comes to health and well-being in the U.S.: A new Gallup poll finds that among Americans aged 30 to 64, those with lower household incomes and lower education levels are considerably more likely to say that they have health problems than their counterparts further up the socioeconomic ladder.

It’s not a small difference: When you combine income and education, it’s a four-fold difference in reports of health problems.

Writes Gallup:

Insurance companies taking on millions of previously uninsured customers over the next few years will invest considerable resources in revising actuarial models to account for the changing demographic makeup of their customer base. Gallup data stress the importance of putting emphasis on smoking cessation programs in managing the risk that customers with lower incomes and less education represent.

Gallup analysts have just begun to explore the association between socioeconomic variables and major health outcomes. Further results on the incidence of common health problems such as colds, flu, headaches, and physical pain can be found in a recent study supervised by Gallup Senior Scientists Arthur Stone and Jim Harter, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Such research promises to offer a more nuanced understanding of how targeted health initiatives can improve the well-being of Americans in all walks of life.

Preventative medicine – in the form of education and opportunities – is the answer, not simply more money pumped into health care to pick up the pieces of our social mess.