Regional and social differences concerning overweight, participation in health check-ups and vaccination. Analysis of data from a whole birth cohort of 6-year old children in a prosperous German city
- Equal contributors
1 University of Bremen, Centre for Social Policy Research, Division Health Economics, Health Policy and Outcomes Research, Bremen, Germany
2 Helmholtz Zentrum Muenchen – German Research Center for Environmental Health, Institute of Health Economics and Health Care Management, 85758 Neuherberg, Germany
BMC Public Health 2009, 9:43 doi:10.1186/1471-2458-9-43Published: 30 January 2009
Studies on health inequalities still focus mostly on adults. Research about social disparities and health in children is slowly increasing, also in Germany, but these studies are mostly restricted to individual social variables derived from the parents to determine social class. This paper analyses the data of the medical check-up prior to school enrolment to determine differences concerning overweight, participation in health check-ups and immunization; it includes individual social variables but also regional variables describing the social environment of the children.
The dataset includes 9,353 children who started school in 2004 in Munich, Germany. Three dependent variables are included (i.e. overweight, health check-ups, vaccinations). The individual level social variables are: children's sex, mother tongue of the parents, Kindergarten visit. On the small scale school district level, two regional social variables could be included as well, i.e. percentage of single-parent households, percentage of households with low educational level. Associations are assessed by cross tables and regression analyses. The regional level variables are included by multilevel analyses.
The analyses indicate that there is a large variation between the school districts concerning the three dependent variables, and that there is no district with very 'problematic values' for all three of them (i.e. high percentage of overweight, low levels of health check-ups and vaccinations). Throughout the bivariate and multivariate analyses, the mother tongue of the children's parents shows the most pronounced association with these dependent variables; i.e. children growing up in non-German-speaking families tend to be more overweight and don't visit preventive check-ups as often as children of German-speaking parents. An opposite association can be seen concerning vaccinations. Regional level influences are present as well, but they are rather small when the individual level social variables are controlled for.
The dataset of the medical check-up prior to school enrolment offers a great opportunity for public health research, as it comprises a whole age cohort. The number and scope of variables is quite limited, though. On one hand, it includes only few variables on health or health related risks. On the other, it would be important to have more information from the region where the children live, e.g. the availability of community and health care services for parents and children, social networks of families with children, areas where children can play outside, traffic noise and air pollution. Despite these shortcomings, the need for specific interventions can already be derived from the data analyzed here, e.g. programs to reduce overweight in children should focus on parents with a mother tongue other than German.