Inequality gap grows

Studies find worsening conditions for low-income families

The recent report released on January 19 by Oxfam, a group of almost 20 organizations working in almost 100 countries to fight poverty, reported that the world’s inequality gap is widening.

This gap has now become so wide, according to Oxfam’s study, that by 2016, a mere 1% of the world’s population will own 50% more wealth than the other 99% of the world.

But it’s not just wealth that has Oxfam worried. A new study by Frank Elgar et al., published on Wednesday in the peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet, shows that mental and physical health are also worse in poorer economic households. The study, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, analyzed data from Elgar’s previous World Health Organization study to reach these conclusions.

The original WHO study, “Behaviour in school-aged children”, looked at nearly half a million children from 34 countries in Europe and North America, including Canada. These children, who were between the ages of 11 and 15, came from a mix of schooling backgrounds (public and private) and were nearly equally divided between boys and girls. These children were interviewed on three separate occasions: in 2002, 2006, and finally in 2010.

With the addition of those results, Elgar and his team asked a few questions to get to understand how mentally healthy the children were based on the accuracy of their responses to factual questions. Children were asked questions such as, “During the past 12 months, how many times did you travel away on holiday with your family?”, “How many computers does your family own?”, and “Do you have your own bedroom for yourself?” They used a scale from 0 to 4 to measure the accuracy of the results compared to information they had already collected about the children’s families and their occupations.

For the physical results, Elgar et al. measured the children’s body mass index, weight, and height. Just like the mental health portion of the survey, children were also asked certain questions, like “Over the past seven days, on how many days were you physically active for a total of at least 60 minutes per day?”

They found that affluent adolescents were more likely to be physically active than adolescents from lower-income families. The team also noted that adolescents from lower-income families reported suffering from more physical symptoms like headaches and psychological symptoms such as irritability.

Elgar stresses that these findings have long-term implications. Although the participants are still children, they will become adults who face not only wealth inequalities, but also the danger of diabetes, heart problems, and potentially obesity.

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