Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Explaining socioeconomic status differences in health behaviors.

Today Carlijn Kamphuis defended her thesis entitled ‘Explaining socioeconomic inequalities in health behaviors: The role of environmental factors’.
Inequalities in health according to income, level of education or other socio-economic status indicators have and are being observed across the world. Poorer and less educated people live shorter lives and have higher risk for a range of diseases and health threats. This is also true in a rather egalitarian country like the Netherlands.
One of the reasons why people from lower socioeconomic status groups are less healthy is the fact that these people on average live less healthy lives. Smoking prevalence, lack of physical activity and un-healthful dietary habits are more prevalent. The next question , of course, is to try to find out why that is the case. This is what Carlijn Kamphuis set out to explore in her doctoral thesis research: why do we find socioeconomic differences in physical activity and dietary habits? Her hypothesis was that contextual, or environmental factors, rather than personal factors are the main determinants. More explicitly, she especially explored whether neighbourhood physical environmental factors were important, i.e. the availability and accessibility of opportunities to be physically active and eat a healthful diet.
The thesis contains a series of papers that have been published in different international scientific journals, including two systematic reviews, qualitative research and quantitative analyses of data from the Globe study.
The results indicate that neighbourhood factors do explain only a small proportion of socioeconomic inequalities in health behaviors. It appears that individual cognitions such as attitudes and intentions, and social environmental factors, such as social modelling and support are more important.

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