Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

The Rich Get Healthier

By Tim Olds

We’re getting healthier and living longer, but the rich more than the poor.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

What would prefer: to get a rise of $50 per week when everyone else (for the same amount of work) gets $100, or that everyone gets $30 per week? Or would you prefer a world where you live an extra 5 years and everyone else lives an extra 10 years, or where everyone lives an extra 3 years?

It doesn’t really matter what you want, here’s what you’re getting, at least in Australia: everyone is getting healthier and living longer, but some are getting healthier faster, and the gap is increasing.

Or so a recent study from Sydney University tells us. In NSW in 2002, 55% of adults had a “high lifestyle risk”, defined as two or more of the following unhealthy behaviours: high alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, low fruit and vegetable intake, and smoking). By 2012 that was down to 45%. New South Welshfolk today are drinking less, smoking less, eating more fruit and veg, and getting more exercise.

So far, plain sailing. However, in the richest 20% of the NSW population, the improvement has been much greater: down from 46% unhealthy in 2002 to 35% in 2012. In the poorest 20% it only fell from 57% to 54%. The gap has increased: in 2002, there were 1.24 unhealthy poor people for every unhealthy rich person. Now there are 1.53.

An earlier study covering the period 1989–2001 found the same trends in Australian capital cities. Over that period, 3% of the...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.