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Inequality threat to global health

Thursday February 9th, 2017

Inequality has a central role in global mental and physical health, British academics say today.

Professors Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson of York University, UK, write in today's (9 February) BMJ that the 2017 World Economic Forum report on global risks lists rising income and wealth disparity as "the most important trend likely to determine development across the world over the next decade".

The authors add that Oxfam's latest inequality report shows that just eight men own the same wealth as the poorest half of the world.

However, they point out that some countries, most notably in Latin America, have managed to reduce income disparities.

"A robust and growing body of evidence shows that the populations of societies with bigger income differences tend to have poorer physical and mental health, more illicit drug use, and more obesity," they write.

"From our perspective as social epidemiologists working on inequalities, the record on tackling health inequalities does not inspire optimism," they warn. "In many cities in the UK and US, for example, we continue to see life expectancy gaps of five to ten years, and occasionally 15 to 20 years, between the richest and poorest areas."

The authors highlight the political causes of this rise in equality and suggest some possible approaches to reducing inequality such as higher top tax rates and a child basic income.

The Oxfam report also covers potential political solutions. It states: "Decent health care and a good education, for example, are rights for everyone, not only for those who can afford them. The National Health Service in the UK is ranked as one of the most efficient and effective health services in the world. Governments can and should be powerful players in the economy."

Pickett, K. and Wilkinson, R. The immorality of inaction on inequality. BMJ 9 February 2017 doi: 10.1136/bmj.j556 [abstract]

Tags: General Health | UK News | World Health

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