Open Access Research article

Neighbourhood socioeconomic status and cardiovascular risk factors: a multilevel analysis of nine cities in the Czech Republic and Germany

Nico Dragano1*, Martin Bobak2, Natalia Wege1, Anne Peasey2, Pablo E Verde1, Ruzena Kubinova3, Simone Weyers1, Susanne Moebus4, Stefan Möhlenkamp5, Andreas Stang6, Raimund Erbel5, Karl-Heinz Jöckel4, Johannes Siegrist1 and Hynek Pikhart2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Medical Sociology, Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf, Germany

2 International Institute for Health and Society, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, UK

3 Centre for Environmental Health, National Institute of Public Health, Prague, Czech Republic

4 Institute for Medical Informatics, Biometry and Epidemiology, University Duisburg-Essen, Germany

5 Clinic of Cardiology, West-German Heart Center Essen, University Duisburg-Essen, Germany

6 Institute of Medical Epidemiology, Biometry and Informatics, University Hospital of Halle, Germany

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BMC Public Health 2007, 7:255  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-7-255

Published: 21 September 2007



Previous studies have shown that deprived neighbourhoods have higher cardiovascular mortality and morbidity rates. Inequalities in the distribution of behaviour related risk factors are one possible explanation for this trend. In our study, we examined the association between cardiovascular risk factors and neighbourhood characteristics. To assess the consistency of associations the design is cross-national with data from nine industrial towns from the Czech Republic and Germany.


We combined datasets from two population based studies, one in Germany ('Heinz Nixdorf Recall (HNR) Study'), and one in the Czech Republic ('Health, Alcohol and Psychosocial Factors in Eastern Europe (HAPIEE) Study'). Participation rates were 56% in the HNR and 55% in the HAPIEE study. The subsample for this particular analysis consists of 11,554 men and women from nine German and Czech towns. Census based information on social characteristics of 326 neighbourhoods were collected from local administrative authorities. We used unemployment rate and overcrowding as area-level markers of socioeconomic status (SES). The cardiovascular risk factors obesity, hypertension, smoking and physical inactivity were used as response variables. Regression models were complemented by individual-level social status (education) and relevant covariates.


Smoking, obesity and low physical activity were more common in deprived neighbourhoods in Germany, even when personal characteristics including individual education were controlled for. For hypertension associations were weak. In the Czech Republic associations were observed for smoking and physical inactivity, but not for obesity and hypertension when individual-level covariates were adjusted for. The strongest association was found for smoking in both countries: in the fully adjusted model the odds ratio for 'high unemployment rate' was 1.30 [95% CI 1.02–1.66] in the Czech Republic and 1.60 [95% CI 1.29–1.98] in Germany.


In this comparative study, the effects of neighbourhood deprivation varied by country and risk factor; the strongest and most consistent effects were found for smoking. Results indicate that area level SES is associated with health related lifestyles, which might be a possible pathway linking social status and cardiovascular disease. Individual-level education had a considerable influence on the association between neighbourhood characteristics and risk factors.