Race and health profiles in the United States: an examination of the social gradient through the 2009 CHIS adult survey

A B Nguyen, R Moser, W-Y Chou
Public Health 2014, 128 (12): 1076-86

OBJECTIVE: To examine the role of the social gradient on multiple health outcomes and behaviors. It was predicted that higher levels of SES, measured by educational attainment and family income, would be associated with positive health behaviors (i.e., smoking, drinking, physical activity, and diet) and health status (i.e., limited physical activity due to chronic condition, blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, BMI, and perceived health condition). The study also examined the differential effects of the social gradient in health among different racial/ethnic groups (i.e., non-Hispanic Whites, Blacks, Asian, Hispanics, and American Indians).

STUDY DESIGN: Cross-sectional study.

METHODS: The data were from the adult 2009 California Health Interview Survey (CHIS). Weighted multivariable linear and logistic regression models were conducted to examine trends found between SES and health conditions and health behaviors. Polynomial trends were examined for all linear and logistic models to test for the possible effects (linear, quadratic, and cubic) of the social gradient on health behaviors and outcomes stratified by race/ethnicity.

RESULTS: Findings indicated that, in general, Whites had more favorable health profiles in comparison to other racial/ethnic groups with the exception of Asians who were likely to be as healthy as or healthier than Whites. Predicted marginals indicated that Asians in the upper two strata of social class display the healthiest outcomes of health status among all other racial/ethnic groups. Also, the social gradient was differentially associated with health outcomes across race/ethnicity groups. While the social gradient was most consistently observed for Whites, education did not have the same protective effect on health among Blacks and American Indians. Also, compared to other minority groups, Hispanics and Asians were more likely to display curvilinear trends of the social gradient: an initial increase from low SES to mid-level SES was associated with worse health outcomes and behaviors; however, continued increase from mid-SES to high SES saw returns to healthy outcomes and behaviors.

CONCLUSION: The study contributes to the literature by illustrating unique patterns and trends of the social gradient across various racial/ethnic populations in a nationally representative sample. Future studies should further explore temporal trends to track the impact of the social gradient for different racial and ethnic populations in tandem with indices of national income inequalities.

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