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Revista Panamericana de Salud Pública

On-line version ISSN 1680-5348Print version ISSN 1020-4989


LIMA-COSTA, Maria Fernanda; BARRETO, Sandhi M.; FIRMO, Josélia O.A.  and  UCHOA, Elizabeth. Socioeconomic position and health in a population of Brazilian elderly: the Bambuí Health and Aging Study (BHAS). Rev Panam Salud Publica [online]. 2003, vol.13, n.6, pp.387-394. ISSN 1680-5348.

OBJECTIVE: Despite the vast scientific literature on the social determinants of health, there is still a debate on the extent to which this relationship remains in old age. The objective of this study was to examine the association between socioeconomic circumstances and health among older adults in a small town in Brazil. METHODS: The study was carried out in Bambuí, a town of around 15 000 inhabitants that is located in the state of Minas Gerais, which is in southeastern Brazil. From 1 177 residents aged 65 years or older, 1 074 of them (91.2%) were interviewed and 997 (84.7%) were examined (physical measurements and blood tests). Those in the lowest third of the distribution of total household monthly income, with an income of less than US$ 240 per month, were compared with those who had an income above that level. RESULTS: Lower family income was independently associated with: (1) some lifestyle risk factors (less consumption of fresh fruits or vegetables and less frequent exercise during leisure time in the preceding 30 days), (2) several indicators of worse health status (General Health Questionnaire score, self-rated health, self-rated visual acuity, level of difficulty in walking 300 meters, inability to perform routine activities because of a health problem in the preceding 2 weeks, and seropositivity for Trypanosoma cruzi), (3) a higher number of nonprescribed medications used in the preceding 3 months, and (4) a higher number of hospitalizations in the preceding 12 months. Obesity was more frequent in the higher-income group. CONCLUSIONS: The results of this study do not confirm observations in some developed countries of a lack of association between socioeconomic status and health among the aged. Our results showed that a small difference in monthly family income was sufficiently sensitive to identify elderly persons in worse health, even within a community that appears to be uniformly poor.

Keywords : Aged; health status; socioeconomic factors; health services accessibility; Brazil.

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