HEADLINES Published March3, 2015 By Bernadette Strong

Global Health Inequalities for Teens Growing with Income Inequality

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Socioeconomic differences in adolescent health are getting wider around the world.
(Photo : Peter Macdiarmid, Getty Images)

Rising income inequality in Europe and North American is happening at the same time as wider disparities are occurring in the mental and physical health of young people aged 11 to 15, according to a study published in The Lancet.

Researchers looked at data on the health of more than 492,000 teens in 34 countries between the years 2002 and 2010. The data came from the World Health Organization. While health improved in some ways, it became more unequal between socioeconomic groups. There were widening gaps seen in body mass, physical activity, and mental and physical health symptoms between advantaged and disadvantaged teens.

Internationally, the higher the per person income, the better health was for teens in terms of physical activity, psychological symptoms, and life satisfaction. However, higher income inequality for teens was uniquely related to fewer days of physical activity, higher body mass index, more psychological and physical symptoms, and larger health inequalities between socioeconomic groups in terms of psychological and physical symptoms, and life satisfaction.

Overall, there were slight increases in the average levels of physical activity, body mass, physical symptoms, and life satisfaction.

"Health inequalities in youths shape future inequities in education, employment, adult health, and life expectancy, and should be a focus of health policy," said Frank Elgar of McGill University's Institute for Health and Social Policy and an author on the study. "Our results also point to policy options for governments that could help reduce health inequalities early in the life course, such as reducing income inequality or investing in the health of disadvantaged youth."

The authors suggest that health policy makers need to look beyond average levels of population health and disease prevalence in order to tackle inequities in health across increasingly disparate socioeconomic conditions.

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