Open Access Research article

Lack of basic and luxury goods and health-related dysfunction in older persons; Findings from the longitudinal SMILE study

Daniëlle AI Groffen1*, Hans Bosma1, Marjan van den Akker2, Gertrudis IJM Kempen3 and Jacques TM van Eijk1

Author Affiliations

1 School for Public Health and Primary Care (CAPHRI), Department of Social Medicine, Maastricht University, PO Box 616, 6200 MD Maastricht, the Netherlands

2 School for Public Health and Primary Care (CAPHRI), Department of General Practice, Maastricht University, the Netherlands

3 School for Public Health and Primary Care (CAPHRI), Department of Health Care and Nursing Science, Maastricht University, the Netherlands

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BMC Public Health 2008, 8:242  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-8-242

Published: 17 July 2008



More so than the traditional socioeconomic indicators, such as education and income, wealth reflects the accumulation of resources and makes socioeconomic ranking manifest and explicitly visible to the outside world. While the lack of basic goods, such as a refrigerator, may affect health directly, via biological pathways, the lack of luxury goods, such as an LCD television, may affect health indirectly through psychosocial mechanisms. We set out to examine, firstly, the relevance of both basic and luxury goods in explaining health-related dysfunction in older persons, and, secondly, the extent to which these associations are independent of traditional socioeconomic indicators.


Cross-sectional and longitudinal data from 2067 men and women aged 55 years and older who participated in the Study on Medical Information and Lifestyles Eindhoven (SMILE) were gathered. Logistic regression analyses were used to study the relation between a lack of basic and luxury goods and health-related function, assessed with two sub-domains of the SF-36.


The lack of basic goods was closely related to incident physical (OR = 2.32) and mental (OR = 2.12) dysfunction, even when the traditional measures of socioeconomic status, i.e. education or income, were taken into account. Cross-sectional analyses, in which basic and luxury goods were compared, showed that the lack of basic goods was strongly associated with mental dysfunction. Lack of luxury goods was, however, not related to dysfunction.


Even in a relatively wealthy country like the Netherlands, the lack of certain basic goods is not uncommon. More importantly, lack of basic goods, as an indicator of wealth, was strongly related to health-related dysfunction also when traditional measures of socioeconomic status were taken into account. In contrast, no effects of luxury goods on physical or mental dysfunction were found. Future longitudinal research is necessary to clarify the precise mechanisms underlying these effects.