Nearly a quarter of all deaths in Virginia from 1990 to 2006, or 220,211 deaths, would have been averted if the entire population exhibited the same mortality rate as the state’s five most affluent areas, according to this analysis of census data and vital statistics.
The link between socioeconomic status and life expectancy is well known. This analysis sought to demonstrate the magnitude of its effect by looking at deaths in Virginia, a state with significant extremes of wealth and poverty. For each of the years of the study, researchers looked at the mortality rates for the five areas determined to have the highest median income that year. These mortality rates, stratified by gender and age, were then applied to the remainder of the state.
- If the mortality rates of the wealthy areas had been applied throughout Virginia, 24.3 percent of all deaths, or a total of 220,211 deaths, would have been averted during the study period.
- Adults with no more than a high school education accounted for 75 percent of all averted deaths, as did deaths of non-Hispanic Whites. (By comparison, adults with college degrees would have accounted for less than 10 percent of averted deaths.)
- In some poorer counties or cities, as much as 40-50 percent of all deaths would have been averted.
According to the authors, what is not clear from this study is what policies should be implemented to avert these deaths. Household income is intertwined with many individual and community determinants of health, such as education, race, ethnicity, occupation and environmental factors. Future work, using regression analysis, is planned to determine which factors matter most. It is clear, however, that socioeconomic policies have a significant impact on health. As the authors point out, there is no known medical intervention that could reduce mortality rates so drastically.