Institute for Health & Ageing

Research Themes

Inequalities in Health

Research that is directed at improving the environmental, social, and economic conditions that give rise to good health, and to counter those conditions that generate poor health.

The health of Australian’s improved markedly during the last century; however, not all groups have shared equally in these health gains. The socioeconomically disadvantaged (which often includes Indigenous peoples, the disabled, the elderly, certain ethnic groups, and the homeless) is one such group. In general, people from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds fare significantly worse in terms of their health: they have higher mortality rates for most major causes of death, their morbidity profile indicates that they experience more ill-health (both physiological and psychosocial), and their use of health care services suggests that they are less likely to act to prevent disease or detect it at an asymptomatic stage.

To address these health inequalities, researchers at the Institute for Health and Ageing have established the Australian Health Inequalities Research Program (AHIRP). The vision of AHIRP is ‘A socioeconomically just Australian society, without health inequity’ and its mission is “To conduct research that is directed at improving the environmental, social, and economic conditions that give rise to good health, and to counter those conditions that generate poor health”.

AHIRP comprises five components:
(i) The monitoring and surveillance of health inequalities in Australia

(ii) Developing new methods and measurement

(iii) Improving knowledge and understanding of health inequalities

(iv) Investigating policies and interventions to reduce health inequalities

(v) Strengthening Australia’s research capacity and infrastructure as these relate to health inequalities.

AHIRP is one of only a few research concentrations in Australia that focuses on the social determinants of health and health inequalities as these relate to a wide-range of chronic disease outcomes (e.g. mortality, morbidity, risk factors, and health behaviours) in the context of an ageing population. By being based at the Institute for Health and Ageing AHIRP is able to draw on theories, concepts, and methods from a variety of disciplines – gerontology, public health, sociology, psychology, exercise physiology – and combines these with information on disease causation from biology and medicine, and the analytic methods of epidemiology and biostatistics. Increasingly, it is being recognized that a multidisciplinary approach is necessary if we are to better understand social variation in disease, and develop policies and strategies to address this problem, and the research environment and team at the Institute for Health and Ageing are ideally placed to realise these goals.

To date, research outputs from AHIRP have informed numerous practice and policy documents including: NHMRC clinical practice guidelines, the national women’s and men’s health policy, the development of sustainable national transport networks, town planning options to reduce obesity, senate inquiries into food prices, childhood poverty, mental health promotion, and health service utilization in rural and remote areas (plus others).