A major new national study shows that Australians who don’t finish high school, who rent rather than own their home, who can’t hold down a stable job or who do not have a strong social network are sicker and die earlier than the national average.

Those in the lowest socio-economic group die three years earlier than the rest of the nation, according to the report — Health Lies in Wealth, commissioned from the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling by Catholic Health Australia.

The population-wide study of Australians of working age shows  health status is not about access to health services, but has more to do with income level, housing status and education level.

Two years ago, the World Health Organisation asked governments around the world to put social determinants of health at the centre of their health and health reform agendas.

We have been in a period of intense discussion and reform of health care in Australia for some time now, but the focus has remained squarely on hospitals and primary care. CHA represents private and public hospitals that care for one in 10 Australians in a hospital bed at any one time, so we know how important it is to ensure we have an efficient hospital system.

But we also know it’s vital to introduce federal and state policy that makes change to improve Australians’ health and life expectancy well before they come to a GP or end up in hospital.

The report shows that policies targeting behavioural change do not work.

There is no reason why, in Australia in this century, we should have some people dying earlier because they grew up in a home without a stable source of income, or because they live in rental accommodation.

The report found if people living in the most disadvantaged areas had the same death rate as those living in the most advantaged areas, then up to half of all premature deaths could be prevented.

Other key findings of the report include:

  • Average life expectancy from the lowest socio-economic group is 3.1 years lower than the highest socio-economic group
  • Up to 65% of those living in public rental accommodation have long term health problems compared with only 15% of home-owners.
  • More than 60% of men in jobless households report having a long term health condition or disability, and more than 40% of women.
  • Rates of obesity are about three times higher for those living in public housing, compared with home owners.
  • The likelihood of being a high-risk drinker for younger adults who left high school early is up to twice as high as for those with a tertiary qualification.

The full report is available here.