Dr. Arlene Bierman

POWER Study tackles health equity

  • March 22, 2012

If all Ontarians were as healthy as those with higher incomes there would be 231,000 fewer disabled people and about 3,300 fewer deaths per year, found a recent study from researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital.

The final chapter of the six-year long POWER Study examining health equity was released last month from researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES). The POWER study (Project for an Ontario Women’s Health Evidence-Based Report) examined access, quality and outcomes of care across the province for the leading causes of disease and disability and how they varied by sex, income, ethnicity and where one lives. The 12-volume study cost $4.3 million and involved 60 researchers.

“We need to tackle the root causes of health inequities such as poverty and poor working and living conditions,” principal investigator Dr. Arlene Bierman told The Catholic Register. “But at the same time, we really need to focus on chronic disease prevention and management because so many of the inequities we found were related to chronic disease and so much is preventable.”

The study examined causes of illness and death, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, depression, diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders and reproductive health.

“Low income men and women were three times as likely to say their health was fair or poor as those with higher incomes,” said Bierman, a physician at St. Michael’s Hospital.

“And also their mental health. There was much higher rates of disability and hospital admissions in low income populations.”

But the good news is that there’s much that can be done to reduce the inequities.

“We need to integrate community services and health care services,” she said. “We need to integrate across the health system. If we’re all working together, we can really make a big difference.”

The primary focus for the study was to provide evidence to decision makers to help them improve health and health care across the province, said Bierman. Researchers also ended up developing a model for including gender and equity analysis into health reporting, she said.

And although it was a women’s health report, the study looked at the needs of men across the province, and how those needs differed from females based on social determinants like poverty, said Bierman.

“Poverty affects men and women very differently, so low-income women are more likely to get multiple chronic diseases or get a disability and low-income men are more likely to die earlier.”

For more information on the POWER Study, see www.powerstudy.ca.

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