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Open Access Research article

The impact of the social environment on children's mental health in a prosperous city: an analysis with data from the city of Munich

Laura Perna1*, Gabriele Bolte2, Heidi Mayrhofer3, Gabriele Spies3 and Andreas Mielck1

Author Affiliations

1 Helmholtz Zentrum München, German Research Centre for Environmental Health, Institute of Health Economics and Health Care Management, Neuherberg, Germany

2 Bavarian Health and Food Safety Authority, Department of Environmental and Occupational Epidemiology, Munich, Germany

3 City of Munich, Department of Health and Environment, Munich, Germany

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:199  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-199

Published: 21 April 2010

Abstract

Background

Children with a low socioeconomic position are more affected by mental difficulties as compared to children with a higher socioeconomic position. This paper explores whether this socioeconomic pattern persists in the prosperous German city of Munich which features high quality of life and coverage of children mental health specialists that lies well above the national average and is among the highest in Europe.

Methods

1,265 parents of preschool children participated in a cross-sectional health survey. They were given a self-administered questionnaire (including socioeconomic variables) and the 'Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ)', a well-established method to identify mental difficulties among children and adolescents. Prevalence estimates for the 'SDQ-Total Difficulties Score' were calculated, with a special focus on differences by parental (resp. household) socioeconomic position. The association between parental education, household income, single parenthood, nationality, and parental working status on one hand, and their children's mental health on the other, was explored using multivariable logistic regression models. The coverage of mental health specialists per 100,000 children aged 14 or younger in the city of Munich was also calculated.

Results

In Munich, the distribution of mental health difficulties among children follows the same socioeconomic pattern as described previously at the national level, but the overall prevalence is about 30% lower. Comparing different indicators of socioeconomic position, low parental education and household income are the strongest independent variables associated with mental difficulties among children (OR = 2.7; CI = 1.6 - 4.4 and OR = 2.8; CI = 1.4 - 5.6, respectively).

Conclusions

Socioeconomic differences in the prevalence of childhood mental difficulties are very stable. Even in a city such as Munich, which is characterized by high quality of life, high availability of mental health specialists, and low overall prevalence of these mental difficulties, they are about as pronounced as in Germany as a whole. It can be concluded that the effect of several characteristics of socioeconomic position 'overrules' the effect of a health promoting regional environment.