The role of behaviours in the emergence of health inequalities
Lifepath researchers gathered all the evidences on the role of health behaviours in explaining socioeconomic inequalities in health in a systematic review published on Preventive Medicine, which is the first study to provide a complete and comprehensive synthesis on the factors influencing the contribution of these behaviours to the socioeconomic gradient in health. They focused their attention on four of them – smoking, alcohol consumption, physical activity and diet – and restricted the considered health outcomes to cardiometabolic disorders and mortality.
While they confirmed that health behaviours contribute to the socioeconomic gradient in health, they also shown that such a contribution may vary greatly due to the unequal distribution of these behaviours across socioeconomic groups in given socio-demographic, regional and cultural contexts. This differences in the behavioural socioeconomic patterning is also influenced by health outcomes – smoking, for instance, would likely provoke respiratory diseases, malignancies and atherosclerosis while obesity tends to be more related to dietary patterns and physical activity – and methodological differences between included studies.
As Lifepath researchers point out, “an overall challenge regarding the socioeconomic gradient in health would be to identify all the mediators involved in this association, such as psychosocial factors, material conditions, environmental exposures or work conditions in order to provide a global and complete understanding of mechanisms underlying socioeconomic inequalities in health”.
Lifepath researchers thus hope for their results to encourage the implementation of interventions targeting health behaviours, as they may reduce socioeconomic inequalities in health and increase population health.