Unhealthy Lifestyles Not Primary Cause Of High Mortality Rates

ANN ARBOR, Mich.--Risky health behaviors such as smoking, drinking, lack of physical activity, and being overweight account for only a small part of the excess mortality among low-income and less educated Americans, according to a new University of Michigan study.

Scientists, policy makers and pundits have generally assumed that disadvantaged Americans have higher mortality rates primarily because they more often engage in risky health behaviors. However, this study shows that health risk behaviors account for only a small part of the excess mortality among Americans with low levels of income and education, according to Paula Lantz, assistant professor of health management and policy at the U-M School of Public Health.

Lantz's study, titled "Socioeconomic Factors, Health Behaviors and Mortality: Results from a Nationally-Representative Prospective Study of U.S. Adults," appears in the June 3 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study investigated the association between high mortality rates, socioeconomic position, and four behavioral risk factors---cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption, physical activity and weight. Lantz and her colleagues examined the impact of education, income and these health behaviors on the risk of dying in the next 7.5 years in a national sample of 3,617 adults who were first interviewed in 1986.

The researchers found that those with low levels of income and education were significantly more likely both to engage in risky health behaviors and to die. For example, compared with people with annual family incomes over $30,000, those with incomes of less than $10,000 were over three times as likely to die, and those with incomes between $10,000 and $30,000

Contact: Amy Reyes
(734) 647-4411
University of Michigan

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