February 9, 2024

Preventable hospitalizations and deaths ‘of despair’ associated with income inequality

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Public health researchers Roman Pabayo (left) and Claire Benny found a link between income inequality and preventable illnesses and deaths “of despair” in Canada, and recommend targeting prevention and support programs to areas with the highest disparity. (Photo: Supplied)

Canada’s growing income inequality is having an impact on Canadians’ mental and physical health, according to public health researchers at the University of Alberta.

In recent research, the team found statistical associations between income inequality and a higher risk of “hospitalizations of despair” — especially drug overdose — and all-cause hospitalizations. Hospitalizations and deaths of despair are defined as being due to drug overdose, suicide attempt or alcohol-related liver disease.

Income inequality isn’t only about the prevalence of poverty in a community — it also involves the size of the income gap between the richest and poorest residents, the researchers explain. Income inequality has increased in Canada over the past 20 years, according to the Conference Board of Canada.

“The greater the gap, the greater the likelihood of experiencing a hospitalization due to despair,” says principal investigator Roman Pabayo, associate professor in the School of Public Health and Canada Research Chair in Social Environment and Child Health.

“We tracked almost 200,000 people over a 13-year followup in Canada who had these preventable hospitalizations,” explains Claire Benny, who carried out the research for her PhD and is now a postdoctoral fellow with Public Health Ontario. “This represents a large burden on the health-care system, and on people and their communities.”

Read the full story on Folio