Changes in ten years of social inequalities in health among elderly Brazilians (1998-2008)

Lima-Costa, M.F.; L.A. Facchini; D.L. Matos, and J. Macinko
Revista de Saude Publica, Vol. 46, supp. 1. 10.1590/S0034-89102012005000059

OBJECTIVE: To assess the changes in income-related inequalities in health conditions and in the use of health services among elderly Brazilians.

METHODS: Representative samples of the Brazilian population aged 60 years and more were analyzed between 1998 and 2008 (n = 27,872 and 41,198, respectively), derived from the Pesquisa Nacional por Amostra de Domicílios (National Household Sample Survey). The following variables were considered in this study: per capita monthly household income, self-rated health, physical functioning, medical consultations and hospitalizations in the previous 12 months and exclusive use of the Sistema Único de Saúde (Unified Health System). Data analysis was based on estimates of prevalence and prevalence ratios obtained with robust Poisson regression.

RESULTS: In 1998 and 2008, the prevalence of poor self-rated health, mobility limitations and inability to perform activities of daily living (ADLs), adjusted for age and sex, showed strong gradients associated with per capita household income quintiles, with the lowest values being found among those in the lowest income quintile. The prevalence ratios adjusted for age and sex between the lowest quintile (poorest individuals) and highest quintile (richest individuals) of income remained stable for poor self-rated health (PR = 3.12 [95%CI 2.79;3.51] in 1998 and 2.98 [95%CI 2.69;3.29] in 2008), mobility limitations (PR = 1.54 [95%CI 1.44;1.65 and 1.69 [95%CI 1.60;1.78], respectively) and inability to perform ADLs (PR = 1.79 [95%CI 1.52;2.11] and 2.02 [95%CI 1.78;2.29], respectively). There was a reduction in income-related disparities when three or more medical consultations had been made and with the exclusive use of the Unified Health System. Inequalities were not observed for hospitalizations. 

CONCLUSIONS: Despite reductions in income-related inequalities among indicators of use of health services, the magnitude of disparities in health conditions has not decreased. Longitudinal studies are necessary to better understand the persistence of such inequalities among elderly Brazilians.