Trends in health inequalities in 27 European countries

PNAS – Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States
of America
[Accessed 9 Jun 2018]

Trends in health inequalities in 27 European countries
Johan P. Mackenbach, José Rubio Valverde, Barbara Artnik, Matthias Bopp, Henrik Brønnum-Hansen, Patrick Deboosere, Ramune Kalediene, Katalin Kovács, Mall Leinsalu, Pekka Martikainen, Gwenn Menvielle, Enrique Regidor, Jitka Rychtaříková, Maica Rodriguez-Sanz, Paolo Vineis, Chris White, Bogdan Wojtyniak, Yannan Hu, and Wilma J. Nusselder
PNAS June 4, 2018. 201800028; published ahead of print June 4, 2018.
Inequalities in mortality and morbidity among socioeconomic groups are a highly persistent phenomenon despite having been the focus of public health policy in many countries. The United States has recently witnessed a widening of health inequalities due to rising mortality and morbidity among the lowly educated. Our study shows that, despite the financial crisis, most European countries have experienced an improvement in the health of the lowly educated in recent years. In Eastern Europe, this even represents a reversal as compared with previous decades. The 2008 financial crisis has had mixed effects without widening health inequalities. Our results suggest that European countries have been successful in avoiding an aggravation of health inequalities.
Unfavorable health trends among the lowly educated have recently been reported from the United States. We analyzed health trends by education in European countries, paying particular attention to the possibility of recent trend interruptions, including interruptions related to the impact of the 2008 financial crisis. We collected and harmonized data on mortality from ca. 1980 to ca. 2014 for 17 countries covering 9.8 million deaths and data on self-reported morbidity from ca. 2002 to ca. 2014 for 27 countries covering 350,000 survey respondents. We used interrupted time-series analyses to study changes over time and country-fixed effects analyses to study the impact of crisis-related economic conditions on health outcomes. Recent trends were more favorable than in previous decades, particularly in Eastern Europe, where mortality started to decline among lowly educated men and where the decline in less-than-good self-assessed health accelerated, resulting in some narrowing of health inequalities. In Western Europe, mortality has continued to decline among the lowly and highly educated, and although the decline of less-than-good self-assessed health slowed in countries severely hit by the financial crisis, this affected lowly and highly educated equally. Crisis-related economic conditions were not associated with widening health inequalities. Our results show that the unfavorable trends observed in the United States are not found in Europe. There has also been no discernible short-term impact of the crisis on health inequalities at the population level. Both findings suggest that European countries have been successful in avoiding an aggravation of health inequalities.