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Journal Epidemiology and Community Health

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Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health

Wilkinson and Pickett's1 (WP) theory has relative deprivation as a core mechanism for why income inequality impacts health in societies. A number of recent studies, including in JECH, have thus contrasted the health impact of relative to absolute deprivation.2 3 However, it is a false contrast I argue. This is because supposed absolute deprivation has its roots in a theory of relative deprivation.4 5 Further it is not only WP's theory that has relative deprivation as its core mechanism. Materialist/structural theory, as outlined in the very well-known Black report on health inequalities, does as well.6 Absolute deprivation is often defined as one's material standard of living up to some set level, for example, a subsistence level and as one's material standard of living independent of that of others.3 However, the Black report discusses in detail...


Introduction

While outdoor physical activity has been shown to promote health and well-being,1 2 exercising in environments with high levels of air pollution can increase the risk of health problems ranging from asthma attacks to heart or lung pathologies.3 4 The interaction of these two phenomena is of specific significance in China, where outdoor physical activity has been a traditional practice but where rapid industrialisation has led to major degradation of the environment. This situation raises the spectre of an emergent major public health crisis in the most populous country in the world.

Health-enhancing physical activity

There is clear and compelling evidence that regular physical activity produces substantial physical and mental health benefits, including improved health-related quality of life and decreased risk of premature morbidity and mortality.1 5 6 However, it is...


The article by Mackenbach et al1 addresses educational inequalities in mortality at the turn of the 21st century by examining trends between the 1990s and the 2000s. Using harmonised data from official mortality registers, this study consists of a comprehensive mapping exercise: it includes 13 European countries, a breakdown of mortality into causes and it uses absolute as well as relative measures of inequality.

Both absolute and relative measures are meaningful for monitoring health inequalities. While absolute measures may be more useful for public-health policy, relative measures are particularly apt for analytical purposes, especially when the overall mortality level is taken into account.2 By doing so, Mackenbach et al1 draw a finely tuned picture of mortality inequalities in Europe that transcends ‘half-full/half-empty discussions’. Their encompassing account of mortality inequalities in Europe furthermore allows moving beyond mere description into the realm of explanations. Cross-country...


Background

Over the last decades of the 20th century, a widening of the gap in death rates between upper and lower socioeconomic groups has been reported for many European countries. For most countries, it is unknown whether this widening has continued into the first decade of the 21st century.

Methods

We collected and harmonised data on mortality by educational level among men and women aged 30–74 years in all countries with available data: Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, England and Wales, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, Hungary, Lithuania and Estonia.

Results

Relative inequalities in premature mortality increased in most populations in the North, West and East of Europe, but not in the South. This was mostly due to smaller proportional reductions in mortality among the lower than the higher educated, but in the case of Lithuania and Estonia, mortality rose among the lower and declined among the higher educated. Mortality among the lower educated rose in many countries for conditions linked to smoking (lung cancer, women only) and excessive alcohol consumption (liver cirrhosis and external causes). In absolute terms, however, reductions in premature mortality were larger among the lower educated in many countries, mainly due to larger absolute reductions in mortality from cardiovascular disease and cancer (men only). Despite rising levels of education, population-attributable fractions of lower education for mortality rose in many countries.

Conclusions

Relative inequalities in premature mortality have continued to rise in most European countries, and since the 1990s, the contrast between the South (with smaller inequalities) and the East (with larger inequalities) has become stronger. While the population impact of these inequalities has further increased, there are also some encouraging signs of larger absolute reductions in mortality among the lower educated in many countries. Reducing inequalities in mortality critically depends upon speeding up mortality declines among the lower educated, and countering mortality increases from conditions linked to smoking and excessive alcohol consumption such as lung cancer, liver cirrhosis and external causes.


Background

The use of self-reported measures of chronic disease may substantially underestimate prevalence in low-income and middle-income country settings, especially in groups with lower socioeconomic status (SES). We sought to determine whether socioeconomic inequalities in the prevalence of non-communicable chronic diseases (NCDs) differ if estimated by using symptom-based or criterion-based measures compared with self-reported physician diagnoses.

Methods

Using population-representative data sets of the WHO Study of Global Ageing and Adult Health (SAGE), 2007–2010 (n=42 464), we calculated wealth-related and education-related concentration indices of self-reported diagnoses and symptom-based measures of angina, hypertension, asthma/chronic lung disease, visual impairment and depression in three ‘low-income and lower middle-income countries’—China, Ghana and India—and three ‘upper-middle-income countries’—Mexico, Russia and South Africa.

Results

SES gradients in NCD prevalence tended to be positive for self-reported diagnoses compared with symptom-based/criterion-based measures. In China, Ghana and India, SES gradients were positive for hypertension, angina, visual impairment and depression when using self-reported diagnoses, but were attenuated or became negative when using symptom-based/criterion-based measures. In Mexico, Russia and South Africa, this distinction was not observed consistently. For example, concentration index of self-reported versus symptom-based angina were: in China: 0.07 vs –0.11, Ghana: 0.04 vs –0.21, India: 0.02 vs –0.16, Mexico: 0.19 vs –0.22, Russia: –0.01 vs –0.02 and South Africa: 0.37 vs 0.02.

Conclusions

Socioeconomic inequalities in NCD prevalence tend to be artefactually positive when using self-report compared with symptom-based or criterion-based diagnostic criteria, with greater bias occurring in low-income countries. Using standardised, symptom-based measures would provide more valid estimates of NCD inequalities.


Background

The public health consequences of the Iraq War (2003–2011) have remained difficult to quantify, mainly due to a scarcity of adequate data. This paper is the first to assess whether and to what extent the war affected neonatal polio immunisation coverage.

Method

The study relies on retrospective neonatal polio vaccination histories from the 2000, 2006 and 2011 Iraq Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (N=64 141). Pooling these surveys makes it possible to reconstruct yearly trends in immunisation coverage from 1996 to 2010. The impact of the war is identified with a difference-in-difference approach contrasting immunisation trends in the autonomous Kurdish provinces, which remained relatively safe during the war, with trends in the central and southern provinces, where violence and disruption were pervasive.

Results

After controlling for individual and household characteristics, year of birth and province of residence, children exposed to the war were found to be 21.5 percentage points (95% CI –0.341 to –0.089) less likely to have received neonatal polio immunisation compared with non-exposed children.

Conclusions

The decline in neonatal polio immunisation coverage is part of a broader war-induced deterioration of routine maternal and newborn health services. Postwar strategies to promote institutional deliveries and ensure adequate vaccine availability in primary health facilities could increase dramatically the percentage of newborns immunised.


Background

Breast feeding duration has been associated with improved cognitive development in children. However, few population-based prospective studies have evaluated dose–response relationships of breastfeeding duration with language and motor development at early ages, and results are discrepant.

Methods

The study uses data from the prospective mother–child cohort (‘Rhea’ study) in Crete, Greece. 540 mother–child pairs were included in the present analysis. Information about parental and child characteristics and breastfeeding practices was obtained by interview-administered questionnaires. Trained psychologists assessed cognitive, language and motor development by using the Bayley Scales of Infant Toddler Development (3rd edition) at the age of 18 months.

Results

Duration of breast feeding was linearly positively associated with all the Bayley scales, except of gross motor. The association persisted after adjustment for potential confounders with an increase of 0.28 points in the scale of cognitive development (β=0.28; 95% CI 0.01 to 0.55), 0.29 points in the scale of receptive communication (β=0.29; 95% CI 0.04 to 0.54), 0.30 points in the scale of expressive communication (β=0.30; 95% CI 0.04 to 0.57) and 0.29 points in the scale of fine motor development (β=0.29; 95% CI 0.02 to 0.56) per accumulated month of breast feeding. Children who were breast fed longer than 6 months had a 4.44-point increase in the scale of fine motor development (β=4.44; 95% CI 0.06 to 8.82) compared with those never breast fed.

Conclusions

Longer duration of breast feeding was associated with increased scores in cognitive, language and motor development at 18 months of age, independently from a wide range of parental and infant characteristics. Additional longitudinal studies and trials are needed to confirm these results.


Background

There is a paucity of data on the national population-level effectiveness of preventing mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) programmes in high-HIV-prevalence, resource-limited settings. We assessed national PMTCT impact in South Africa (SA), 2010.

Methods

A facility-based survey was conducted using a stratified multistage, cluster sampling design. A nationally representative sample of 10 178 infants aged 4–8 weeks was recruited from 565 clinics. Data collection included caregiver interviews, record reviews and infant dried blood spots to identify HIV-exposed infants (HEI) and HIV-infected infants. During analysis, self-reported antiretroviral (ARV) use was categorised: 1a: triple ARV treatment; 1b: azidothymidine >10 weeks; 2a: azidothymidine ≤10 weeks; 2b: incomplete ARV prophylaxis; 3a: no antenatal ARV and 3b: missing ARV information. Findings were adjusted for non-response, survey design and weighted for live-birth distributions.

Results

Nationally, 32% of live infants were HEI; early mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) was 3.5% (95% CI 2.9% to 4.1%). In total 29.4% HEI were born to mothers on triple ARV treatment (category 1a) 55.6% on prophylaxis (1b, 2a, 2b), 9.5% received no antenatal ARV (3a) and 5.5% had missing ARV information (3b). Controlling for other factors groups, 1b and 2a had similar MTCT to 1a (Ref; adjusted OR (AOR) for 1b, 0.98, 0.52 to 1.83; and 2a, 1.31, 0.69 to 2.48). MTCT was higher in group 2b (AOR 3.68, 1.69 to 7.97). Within group 3a, early MTCT was highest among breastfeeding mothers 11.50% (4.67% to 18.33%) for exclusive breast feeding, 11.90% (7.45% to 16.35%) for mixed breast feeding, and 3.45% (0.53% to 6.35%) for no breast feeding). Antiretroviral therapy or >10 weeks prophylaxis negated this difference (MTCT 3.94%, 1.98% to 5.90%; 2.07%, 0.55% to 3.60% and 2.11%, 1.28% to 2.95%, respectively).

Conclusions

SA, a high-HIV-prevalence middle income country achieved <5% MTCT by 4–8 weeks post partum. The long-term impact on PMTCT on HIV-free survival needs urgent assessment.


Background

Tobacco smoke pollution (TSP) has major negative effects on infant health. Our objectives were to determine the effectiveness of a brief primary care intervention directed at parents who smoke in reducing babies’ TSP exposure, and to establish variables related to greater exposure.

Method

A multicentre, open, cluster-randomised clinical trial in Catalonia. The 83 participating primary health paediatric teams of the Catalan Health Service recruited 1101 babies whose parents were smokers. The intervention group (IG) received a brief TSP intervention; the control group (CG) received the usual care. Outcomes were measured by parents’ reported strategies to avoid TSP exposure. Baseline clinical data and characteristics of each baby's TSP exposure were collected, along with infant hair samples and parents’ tobacco use and related attitudes/behaviours. At 3-month and 6-month follow-up, behavioural changes to avoid TSP exposure were recorded; the association between reported parental behaviours and nicotine concentration in infant hair samples was tested in a random sample of 253 babies at baseline and 6 months.

Results

During follow-up, TSP-avoidance strategies improved more in the IG than in the CG: 35.4% and 26.9% ( p=0.006) at home, and 62.2% and 53.1% in cars (p=0.008). Logistic regression showed adjusted ORs for appropriate measures in the IG versus CG of 1.59 (95% CI 1.21 to 2.09) at home and 1.30 (95% CI 0.97 to 1.75) in cars. Hair samples showed that 78.7% of the babies tested were exposed. Reduced nicotine concentration was associated with improved implementation of effective strategies reported by parents at home (p=0.029) and in cars (p=0.014).

Conclusions

The intervention produced behavioural changes to avoid TSP exposure in babies. The proportion of babies with nicotine (>=1ng/mg) in hair samples at baseline is a concern.

Trial registration number

Clinical Trials.gov Identifier: NCT00788996.


Background

Poor pulmonary function is associated with mortality and age-related diseases, and can affect cognitive performance. However, extant longitudinal studies indicate that early cognitive ability also affects later pulmonary function. Despite the multifaceted nature of pulmonary function, most longitudinal studies were limited to a single index of pulmonary function: forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV1). In this study, we examined whether early adult cognitive ability predicted five different indices of pulmonary function in mid-life.

Methods

Mixed modelling tested the association between young adult general cognitive ability (mean age=20), measured by the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT), and mid-life pulmonary function (mean age=55), in 1019 men from the Vietnam Era Twin Study of Aging. Pulmonary function was indexed by per cent predicted values for forced vital capacity (FVC%p), FEV1%p, maximum forced expiratory flow (FEFmax%p), and maximal voluntary ventilation (MVV%p), and by the ratio of FEV1 to FVC (FEV1/FVC), an index of lung obstruction.

Results

After adjusting for smoking, pulmonary disease, occupation, income and education, age 20 AFQT was significantly (p<0.05) associated with mid-life FVC%p (β=0.10), FEV1%p (β=0.13), FEFmax%p (β=0.13), and MVV%p (β=0.13), but was not significantly associated with FEV1/FVC (β=0.03, p=0.34).

Conclusions

Early adult cognitive ability is a predictor of multiple indices of aging-related pulmonary function 35 years later, including lung volume, airflow and ventilator capacity. Cognitive deficits associated with impaired aging-related lung function may, thus, be partly pre-existing. However, results also highlight that early life risk factors may be differentially related to different metrics of later-life pulmonary health.


Background

There is a strong belief in the potential of increased physical activity to improve the health of populations. The objective of the present study was to estimate the association between low cardiorespiratory fitness in young adulthood and subsequent health impairment until middle age, measured by disability pension.

Methods

The study utilised data on cardiorespiratory fitness and a number of covariates (social background, health behaviours and psychological characteristics) from the Swedish Conscription Cohort of 1969/1970 including 49 321 men born in 1949–1951, and data on disability pension from 1971 to 2008 (20–59 years of age) through record linkage with two national insurance databases. Cox proportional-hazards regressions yielded hazard ratios (HR) with 95% confidence intervals (CI).

Results

Having low-level or mid-level cardiorespiratory fitness in late adolescence was associated with an increased HR of disability pension across the follow-up (HR for low fitness: 1.85, CI 1.71 to 2.00; HR for mid-level fitness: 1.40, CI 1.31 to 1.50). The association was stronger with earlier disability pensions than with later disability pensions, which was also seen after multiple confounding adjustments. At the same time, these adjustments revealed considerable confounding of the association by individual differences in psychological characteristics in particular.

Conclusions

Lower levels of cardiorespiratory fitness in young adulthood were found to be associated with an increased HR of disability pension throughout the follow-up until 59 years of age, even after adjustment for important confounding factors measured in late adolescence. Increased physical fitness may thus have a lowering effect on the risk of disability pension.


Background

Obtaining a comprehensive quantitative figure of the determinants of influenza infection will help identify priority targets for future influenza mitigation interventions. We developed an original causal model integrating highly diverse factors and their dependencies, to identify the most critical determinants of pandemic influenza infection (H1N1pdm09) during the 2010–2011 influenza season.

Methods

We used data from 601 households (1450 participants) included in a dedicated cohort. Structural equations were used to model direct and indirect relationships between infection and risk perception, compliance with preventive behaviours, social contacts, indoor and outdoor environment, sociodemographic factors and pre-epidemic host susceptibility. Standardised estimates (βstd) were used to assess the strength of associations (ranging from –1 for a completely negative association to 1 for a completely positive association).

Results

Host susceptibility to H1N1pdm09 and compliance with preventive behaviours were the only two factors directly associated with the infection risk (βstd=0.31 and βstd=–0.21). Compliance with preventive behaviours was influenced by risk perception and preventive measures perception (βstd=0.14 and βstd=0.27). The number and duration of social contacts were not associated with H1N1pdm09 infection.

Conclusions

Our findings suggest that influenza vaccination in addition to public health communication campaigns focusing on personal preventive measures should be prioritised as potentially efficient interventions to mitigate influenza epidemics.


Background

Health literacy skills tend to decline during ageing, which is often attributed to age-related cognitive decline. Whether health literacy skills may be influenced by technological and social factors during ageing is unknown.

Methods

We investigated whether internet use and social engagement protect against health literacy decline during ageing, independent of cognitive decline. We used prospective data from 4368 men and women aged ≥52 years in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing from 2004 to 2011. Health literacy was measured at baseline (2004–2005) and at follow-up (2010–2011) using a reading comprehension test of a fictitious medicine label. The influences of consistent internet use and engagement in each of the civic, leisure and cultural activities on health literacy decline over the follow-up were estimated.

Results

After adjusting for cognitive decline and other covariates, consistent internet use (1379/4368; 32%) was protectively associated with health literacy decline (OR=0.77; 95% CI 0.60 to 0.99), as was consistent engagement in cultural activities (1715/4368; 39%; OR=0.73; 95% CI 0.56 to 0.93). As the number of activities engaged in increased, the likelihood of health literacy decline steadily decreased (ptrend<0.0001), with OR=0.51 (95% CI 0.33 to 0.79) for engaging in all four of the internet use and civic, leisure and cultural activities versus none.

Conclusions

Internet use and social engagement, particularly in cultural activities (eg, attending the cinema, art galleries, museums and the theatre), may help older adults to maintain health literacy during ageing. Support for older adults to maintain socially engaged lives and to access the internet should help promote the maintenance of functional literacy skills during ageing.


Background

A better understanding of the relationship between depression and HIV-related outcomes, particularly as it relates to adherence to treatment, is critical to guide effective support and treatment of individuals with HIV and depression. We examined whether depression was associated with attrition from care in a cohort of 610 HIV-infected adults in rural Rwanda and whether this relationship was mediated through suboptimal adherence to treatment.

Methods

The association between depression and attrition from care was evaluated with a Cox proportional hazard model and with mediation methods that calculate the direct and indirect effects of depression on attrition and are able to account for interactions between depression and suboptimal adherence. Depression was assessed with the Hopkins Symptom Checklist-15; attrition was defined as death, treatment default, or loss to follow-up.

Results

Baseline depression was significantly associated with time to attrition after adjustment for receipt of community-based accompaniment, physical functioning quality of life score, and CD4 cell count (HR=2.40, 95% CI 1.27 to 4.52, p=0.005). In multivariable mediation analysis, we found no evidence that the association between depression and attrition after 3 months was mediated by suboptimal adherence (direct effect of depression on attrition: OR=3.90 (1.26 to 12.04), p=0.02; indirect effect: OR=1.07 (0.92 to 1.25), p=0.38).

Conclusions

Even in the context of high antiretroviral therapy adherence, depression may adversely influence HIV outcomes through a pathway other than suboptimal adherence. Treatment of depression is critical to achieving good mental health and retention in HIV-infected individuals with depression.


Mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) is a graded sequence of injuries, which is clinically defined based on subjective symptoms observed by clinicians and/or those reported by patients. Much of the focus on research and prevention of mTBI has been on professional or collegiate-level athletes, despite children and young teenagers being at greatest risk for mTBI. Further, continued involvement in sports across the lifespan, increases the likelihood that youth athletes may sustain repetitive brain trauma, which may result in permanent neurological and psychological deficits. Thus, there is a clear need for a population health initiative and research efforts that focus on the juvenile athlete population; in order to fill in the gap in knowledge about the long-term physiological effects of injury and social outcomes, as well as devise strategies that can help in early detection, prevention and treatment; and in the setting of evidence-based Return-To-Play guidelines.


Fang S, Subramanian S, Piccolo R, et al. Geographic variation in sleep duration: a multilevel analysis from the Boston Area Community Health (BACH) Survey. J Epidemiol Community Health 2015;69:63–9. The second sentence under the heading ‘Neighbourhood variation in sleep duration and Determinants’ has been corrected to read ‘Looking at the ICC, the total variance attributable to between-neighbourhood factors was reduced 20.6% for very short sleep and 26.2% for long sleep’.


Kyohara K, Kitamura T, Iwami T et al. Impact of the Great East Japan earthquake on out-of-hospital cardiac arrest with cardiac origin in non-disaster reas. J Epidemiol Community Health 2015;69:185–8. The title has been corrected to Impact of the Great East Japan earthquake on out-of-hospital cardiac arrest with cardiac origin in non-disaster areas


Background

Exposure to persistent organic pollutants (POPs) is linked to many chronic diseases, including diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Among several possible mechanisms are gradual glutathione depletion and mitochondrial dysfunction after chronic exposure to very low doses of POP mixtures. However, it is biologically noteworthy that glutathione status and mitochondrial function is subject to hormesis, defined broadly as mild stress-induced stimulation of cellular protective mechanisms, including increased synthesis of glutathione and promotion of mitochondrial biogenesis. Although high levels of reactive oxygen/nitrogen species (ROS) can cause cellular damage, certain levels of ROS function as signalling molecules to induce hormetic effects. Thus, similar to many other stressors generating ROS, glutathione status and mitochondrial function can be improved at higher POP doses. However, higher POP levels are dangerous despite their hormetic effects due to other adverse phenomena. Also, the persistent nature of POPs can make hormetic effects less effective in humans as hormesis may be the most active with transient stressors. Hormesis-inducing stressors should be placed into three categories for public health purposes: (1) disadvantageous: chemicals like POPs and radiation, that could harm humans by endocrine disruption, action of chemical mixtures and susceptible populations; (2) neutral: cold, heat, and gravity; and (3) advantageous: moderate exercise, phytochemical intake, and calorie restriction. Noting that regulation of POPs, while critical, has provided insufficient protection because POPs persist in human bodies and the food chain, advantageous stressors should be used by the public to mitigate glutathione depletion and mitochondrial dysfunction due to POPs.