Social Factors and Mortality Rates

A paper published in the American Journal of Public Health shows that the number of deaths attributable to social factors in the U.S. is comparable to those attributed to disease, injury, and behavioral causes. Dr. Sandro Galea of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and colleagues conducted a literature review of studies published between 1980 and 2007 to calculate the relative risks of mortality from social factors like education, poverty, health insurance status, employment, racism, housing conditions, and early childhood stress. The paper, “Estimated Deaths Attributable to Social Factors in the United States,” found that approximately 245,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2000 were attributable to low education, 162,000 to low social support, and 133,000 to individual poverty.

According to a press release about the study, “overall, 4.5% of U.S. deaths were found to be attributable to poverty, midway between previous estimates of 6% and 2.3%. The risks associated with both poverty and low education were higher for individuals aged 25 to 64 than for those 65 or older.”

“The number of deaths the researchers calculated as attributable to low education is comparable to the number caused by heart attacks, which was the leading cause of U.S. deaths in 2000,” Galea said. “These findings argue for a broader public health conceptualization of the causes of mortality and an expansive policy approach that considers how social factors can be addressed to improve the health of populations.”

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