Date of Original Version
Although a preponderance of research indicates that increased income inequality negatively impacts population health, several international studies found that a greater income inequality was associated with better population health when measured on a fine geographic level of aggregation. This finding is known as a “Swiss paradox”. To date, no studies have examined variability in the associations between income inequality and health outcomes by spatial aggregation level in the US. Therefore, this study examined associations between income inequality (Gini index, GI) and population health by geographic level using a large, nationally representative dataset of older adults. We geographically linked respondents’ county data from the 2012 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System to 2012 American Community Survey data. Using generalized linear models, we estimated the association between GI decile on the state and county levels and five population health outcomes (diabetes, obesity, smoking, sedentary lifestyle and self-rated health), accounting for confounders and complex sampling. Although state-level GI was not significantly associated with obesity rates (b = − 0.245, 95% CI − 0.497, 0.008), there was a significant, negative association between county-level GI and obesity rates (b = − 0.416, 95% CI − 0.629, − 0.202). State-level GI also associated with an increased diabetes rate (b = 0.304, 95% CI 0.063, 0.546), but the association was not significant for county-level GI and diabetes rate (b = − 0.101, 95% CI − 0.305, 0.104). Associations between both county-level GI and state-level GI and current smoking status were also not significant. These findings show the associations between income inequality and health vary by spatial aggregation level and challenge the preponderance of evidence suggesting that income inequality is consistently associated with worse health. Further research is needed to understand the nuances behind these observed associations to design informed policies and programs designed to reduce socioeconomic health inequities among older adults.
Cohen, S.A., Greaney, M.L. & Klassen, A.C. A “Swiss paradox” in the United States? Level of spatial aggregation changes the association between income inequality and morbidity for older Americans. Int J Health Geogr 18, 28 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12942-019-0192-x
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