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Open Access Research article

Educational inequalities in mortality and associated risk factors: German- versus French-speaking Switzerland

David Faeh, Matthias Bopp* and Swiss National Cohort Study Group

Author Affiliations

Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine (ISPM), University of Zurich, Hirschengraben 84, 8001 Zurich, Switzerland

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:567  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-567

Published: 22 September 2010

Abstract

Background

Between the French- and German-speaking areas of Switzerland, there are distinct differences in mortality, similar to those between Germany and France. Assessing corresponding inequalities may elucidate variations in mortality and risk factors, thereby uncovering public health potential. Our aim was to analyze educational inequalities in all-cause and cause-specific mortality in the two Swiss regions and to compare this with inequalities in behavioural risk factors and self-rated health.

Methods

The Swiss National Cohort, a longitudinal census-based record linkage study, provided mortality and survival time data (3.5 million individuals, 40-79 years, 261,314 deaths, 1990-2000). The Swiss Health Survey 1992/93 provided cross-sectional data on risk factors. Inequalities were calculated as percentage of change in mortality rate (survival time, hazard ratio) or risk factor prevalence (odds ratio) per year of additional education using multivariable Cox and logistic regression.

Results

Significant inequalities in mortality were found for all causes of death in men and for most causes in women. Inequalities were largest in men for causes related to smoking and alcohol use and in women for circulatory diseases. Gradients in all-cause mortality were more pronounced in younger and middle-aged men, especially in German-speaking Switzerland. Mortality inequalities tended to be larger in German-speaking Switzerland whereas inequalities in associated risk factors were generally more pronounced in French-speaking Switzerland.

Conclusions

With respect to inequalities in mortality and associated risk factors, we found characteristic differences between German- and French-speaking Switzerland, some of which followed gradients described in Europe. These differences only partially reflected inequalities in associated risk factors.