December 1, 2011
Health Disparity Levels Increased After 1980
According to new research, levels of health disparity have increased substantially for people born in the U.S. after 1980.
The researchers from several universities also found that health disparity tends to increase as people move into middle age, before declining as people reach old age.
The two results suggest that the gap between the healthiest and least healthiest people in the U.S. will grow larger for the next one or even two decades as the younger generations grow older and replace previous generations.
"As young people today reach middle age and preceding cohorts with a smaller health gap die off, we expect health disparities in the whole population to grow even larger," Hui Zheng, lead author of the study and assistant professor of sociology at Ohio State University, said in a press release.
The team said that a lot will depend on whether future generations will continue the trend of large health disparities.
"If that trend continues, as I expect it will, health disparities in the whole population will increase in the coming decades," Zheng said.
For the study, the team combined two statistical models that allowed them to disentangle how health disparity over time is affected by three factors: a person's age, when they were born, and the time period when their health was assessed.
"We have never before been able to look at all three of these factors together and see how each interacts with the others to affect changes in health disparities," Zheng said.
The researchers used data from the National Health Interview Survey for the 24-year period from 1984 to 2007.
The survey included about 30,000 people each year who were asked to rate their own health on a five-point scale from poor to excellent.
The team took into account a variety of other factors that may affect health, including gender, race, marital status, work status, education and income.
The study found that late baby boomers, those born from 1955 to 1964, reported better health than any other generation.
Another key finding was the large gap in self-reported health that opened up for people that have been born since 1980. Zheng said that means people are more spread out among the five health categories, from excellent to poor.
He said that this data cannot explain why health disparities grew, but research from other sociologist provides potential explanations.
According to Zheng, the main reason that health disparity is expected to grow in the whole population the coming decades has to do with what is happening among young adults born since 1980.
The study found that current young adults have a larger health gap than preceding cohorts and disparity rises as people move from youth to middle age, peaking at about age 55.
The study was published in the December issue of the American Sociological Review.
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