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New study links higher income with lower disability rates

Berkeley -- Numerous studies have already established the link between extreme poverty and poor health, but a new study led by a public health researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, has found that health disparities exist even between those with higher incomes.

"What was unusual was that we found that people in the middle class were still at a disadvantage compared with those at just a slightly higher income," said Meredith Minkler, professor of health and social behavior at UC Berkeley's School of Public Health and lead author of the study, published in the Aug. 17 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. "The fact that there's a significant difference between people at 600 and 700 percent above the poverty level was a striking finding of this study."

Household income was categorized into nine levels, from less than 100 percent of the poverty line to 700 percent and higher. In 2000, the poverty threshold for a person living alone who was 65 or older was $8,259 per year, and it was $17,761 for a four-person household. A single 65-year-old living at 600 percent of poverty would therefore earn $49,544 per year in income while someone at 700 percent of poverty would earn $57,813. A four-person household at 600 percent of poverty would take in $106,566 per year, while the comparable annual income at 700 percent is $124,327.

"We have lots of evidence that wealthier people in society are healthier and live longer than the poorest, but less settled is whether you see this gradient with respect to disability, and whether it plays out among older people," said Minkler.

The researchers found significant differences in the rates of limitations even among those in the upper income brackets. Among those who were 55-74 years old, even those at 600-699 percent of the poverty line had elevated odds of having a disability compared to those at 700 percent and higher. For example, women aged 55-64 in the 600-699 percent ca
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Contact: Sarah Yang
scyang@berkeley.edu
510-643-7741
University of California - Berkeley
16-Aug-2006


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