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Changing relative and absolute socioeconomic health inequalities in Ontario, Canada: a population-based cohort study of adult premature mortality, 1992 to 2017


Background — This study aimed to characterize trends in absolute and relative socioeconomic inequalities in adult premature mortality between 1992 and 2017, in the context of declining population-wide mortality rates. We conducted a population-based cohort study of all adult premature deaths in Ontario, Canada using provincial vital statistics data linked to census-based, area-level deprivation indices for socioeconomic status.

Methods — The cohort included all individuals eligible for Ontario's single-payer health insurance system at any time between January 1, 1992 and December 31, 2017 with a recorded Ontario place of residence and valid socioeconomic status information (N = 820,370). Deaths between ages 18 and 74 were used to calculate adult premature mortality rates per 1000, stratified by provincial quintile of material deprivation. Relative inequalities were measured using Relative Index of Inequality (RII) measures. Absolute inequalities were estimated using Slope Index of Inequality (SII) measures. All outcome measures were calculated as sex-specific, annual measures for each year from 1992 to 2017.

Results — Premature mortality rates declined in all socioeconomic groups between 1992 and 2017. Relative inequalities in premature mortality increased over the same period. Absolute inequalities were mostly stable between 1992 and 2007, but increased dramatically between 2008 and 2017, with larger increases to absolute inequalities seen in females than in males.

Conclusions — As in other developed countries, long-term downward trends in all-cause premature mortality in Ontario, Canada have shifted to a plateau pattern in recent years, especially in lower- socioeconomic status subpopulations. Determinants of this may differ by setting. Regular monitoring of mortality by socioeconomic status is the only way that this phenomenon can be detected sensitively and early, for public health attention and possible corrective action.



Buajitti E, Frank J, Watson T, Kornas K, Rosella LC. PLoS One. 2020; 15(4):e0230684. Epub 2020; Apr 2.

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