We helped explore what Ontario residents think about income and health

Shankardass KS, Lofters A, Kirst M, Quiñonez C. Public awareness of income-related health inequalities in Ontario, Canada. International Journal for Equity in Health. 2012; 11:26.

Issue: Research shows clearly that living on a lower income is directly linked to having poor health. It’s not clear, however, if health inequality is well understood by the public. As public opinion is an important factor in moving policy-makers to take action, we decided to explore what Ontario residents think about income and health.

What we did: We analyzed results from telephone interviews conducted in 2010 with 2,006 Ontario residents over the age of 18. Participants were asked demographic questions and also asked if they agreed or disagreed with a series of statements about population health.

Findings:

– 53% agreed: “In Ontario, people who are rich are much healthier than people who are poor.”
– 61% agreed: “In Ontario, people who are poor are less likely to live into their 80s than people who are rich.”
– 56.5% agreed: “Over the last few years, people who are rich have become healthier while people who are poor have become less healthy.”
– People under 55, living in rural areas, and who voted for parties other than the NDP were less likely to be aware of health inequalities.
– Women were often less likely to be aware of income-related health inequalities than men.
– Participants with lower incomes were more likely to be aware of health inequalities, while those without post-secondary education were less likely to be aware.
– While participants had a sense that low income can limit the degree to which people can achieve good health, they weren’t clear that it can lead to specific outcomes like heart disease, mental illness and accidents.

Implications:
As we work to build public support to reduce health inequalities, we should be communicating to Ontario residents about the many ways in which income impacts health. Targeting communications efforts to focus on younger people, people living in rural areas and women may be effective in increasing the level of awareness Ontario residents have about health inequalities.

Contact: Ketan Shankardass (ShankardassK@smh.ca)

This paper can be found in the Li Ka Shing database.

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