Poverty shortens healthy years


Poverty appears to trump smoking, obesity and education as a health burden, potentially causing a loss of 8.2 years of perfect health.

In a new study, researchers looked at health and life expectancy data from the National Health Interview Surveys and the Medical Expenditure Panel Surveys and came up with various behavioral and social risk factors that affect quality of life, then used a formula to estimate the quality-adjusted years of life that would be lost.

The average person whose income level is below 200% of the federal poverty line (the bottom third of the country’s population) would lose an estimated 8.2 years of perfect health, smokers 6.6 years, high school dropouts 5.1 years and the obese 4.2 years. Binge drinking and being uninsured were at the bottom.

Risk factors were determined by previously published literature and from the information provided in both surveys. Behavioral risk factors included smoking, being overweight or obese, and binge drinking. Social risk factors included socioeconomic status, race (non-Latino black versus non-Latino white), absence of health insurance and education (fewer than 12 years of school versus more than 12 years).

The research was published online Dec. 17 in the American Journal of Public Health.