Richmond, Va.
Friday, April 25, 2014

Socioeconomic Stresses Could Lower Life Expectancy, VCU Researcher Says

Analysis of Virginia data links avertable deaths and household income

Thursday, Feb. 18, 2010

Socioeconomic status can affect life expectancy, a Virginia Commonwealth University researcher said in a study published today.

People who live in areas with lower household incomes are much more likely to die because of their personal and household characteristics and their community surroundings, according to Steven H. Woolf, M.D., M.P.H., director of the VCU Center on Human Needs, professor in the Department of Family Medicine and lead author of the study.

“It’s tempting to assume that our findings are based on how much money people make,” Woolf said.  “But areas with high household incomes also tend to have better schools, a different racial and social mix and healthier community conditions.”

In the study to be published in the April issue of the American Journal of Public Health and available online today, Woolf and his colleagues analyzed census data and vital statistics from Virginia counties and cities between 1990 and 2006. They demonstrated that one out of four deaths would have been averted if the mortality rates of Virginia’s five most affluent counties and cities had existed statewide. In some of the most disadvantaged areas of the state, nearly half of the deaths would have been averted.

“Virginia is an excellent place to explore the connection between health and median household income. There are communities in Northern Virginia with some of the highest incomes in the nation and there are areas of the state, such as the Appalachian Southwest, Southside, the Middle Peninsula and the Eastern Shore, with high poverty and low high school graduation rates,” Woolf said.

Regions of the state with deep poverty, large minority populations and lower educational achievement levels had high mortality rates in comparison with high household incomes.

“These findings are especially timely during the current recession. Policymakers typically think of the economy, jobs and education as separate issues from health care reform, but they’re deeply connected,” Woolf said. “Social care is health policy, probably saving more lives than anything done in health care.”

For the entire study and other American Journal of Public Health April issue articles, visit http://ajph.aphapublications.org/first_look.shtml.

About VCU and the VCU Medical Center

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 223 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Sixty-eight of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 13 schools and one college. MCV Hospitals and the health sciences schools of Virginia Commonwealth University comprise the VCU Medical Center, one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers. For more, see www.vcu.edu.