Tackling health inequalities requires good socio-economic and health data

Making the link: using health and social data to monitor health inequalities

Those who experience social and economic disadvantage are more likely to be in poor health and have shorter lives than more advantaged peers. Full analysis of the risk factors for and trends in health inequalities is complex and requires comprehensive and comparable health and social data. When national and regional authorities have such data which can be disaggregated by socio-economic status, gender, ethnicity, and education, they can plan and execute policies and interventions which tackle inequalities in cost-effective ways. In the latest issue of Policy Précis (.pdf), EuroHealthNet examines what systems and measures for the collection of data are currently in place in Europe and Member States, and what improvements should be made. 

Read the Policy Précis (.pdf)

There are numerous European initiatives, regulations, and surveys concerning the collection of data, many of which are described in the Policy Précis. Whilst some useful information and trends can be extracted, improvements could better harmonise the data. This would facilitate the assessment and analysis of health inequalities.

Member States are taking positive steps. Every four years RIVM (NL) publishes a national Public Health Status and Forecast report which, in 2018, will include information about health inequalities. The Public Health Agency of Sweden analyses the development and social distribution of major health outcomes, health related behaviours, and social determinants. In Scotland the Scottish Health Survey (SHeS) identifies how lifestyle factors are associated with health; it also allows for comparisons between regions, population groups, and the rest of Britain. In the Netherlands, the national web portal ‘VolksGezondheidEnZorg.info’ (public health and care) shows data on socio-economic disparities and a number of diseases, perceived health status, daily functioning, lifestyle, (healthy) life expectancy, and health determinants. Further, Member States will soon start collaborating on two important EC co-funded Joint Actions; one will address health inequalities (including monitoring) and one will focus on building a Health Information system that supports country knowledge, health research, and policymaking.

For real progress, we need quality data which allows for comparison within and between countries and population groups. The equity element of existing systems needs to be reinforced, allowing for the correlation of health data with social, economic and environmental data. International collaboration through Joint Actions is key; the state of Health of the EU is a welcome initiative, as is the Health Information Initiative and cooperation between WHO, OECD, and EC.