„Social Differences in Germany: Mortality and Life Expectancy“ in the Journal of Health Monitoring

Lothar H. Wieler, president of the Robert Koch Institute, emphasises that ‘Social inequalities are a central issue in public health because of the massive impact that they have on health and life expectancy.’ As the public health institute for Germany, the RKI continually collects and evaluates data. Wieler also underscores that ‘As data for action, our results provide a foundation for evidence-based decisions with regard to the planning, implementation and evaluation of policy measures.’

The analyses of mortality and life expectancy published in the Journal are based on data derived from the Socio-Economic Panel, which is located at the German Institute for Economic Research, and life tables drawn up by the Federal Statistical Office. In their contributions to the Journal, the RKI researchers analyse ‘further life expectancy’ (a calculation of the number of years that a person can expect to live for from a certain age, such as the age of 65) and ‘mean life expectancy at birth’ in order to investigate their association with income. The RKI researchers compared life expectancy at birth for people in the lowest and highest income group and identified a 4.4-year difference among women and an 8.6-year difference among men. The research, which was based on the data available up until 2016, applied a new methodological approach.

Life expectancy has risen significantly in Germany over the past decades. Until the mid-20th century, this rise was mainly due to a decline in mortality among infants, children and young adults. Since then, the steady increase in life expectancy has been primarily associated with declining mortality among older people. However, minor interruptions to the continuous increase in life expectancy have been observed repeatedly. The RKI researchers posit influenza waves as a possible explanation. More than 20,000 people are estimated to have died during the severe influenza outbreaks during the 2012/2013, 2014/2015 and 2016/2017 seasons; this represents a good two per cent of the annual deaths in Germany. Influenza activity and the deaths that are related to it happen after the turn of a year; in these cases, therefore, they occurred in 2013, 2015 and 2017. These are precisely the years in which the rise in life expectancy slowed down.

In addition to life expectancy and mortality, the new issue of the Journal also focuses on health inequalities among children and adolescents. The contribution analyses the RKI’s health monitoring data with regard to socioeconomic status, which takes income, education and parental occupation into account. Finally, the Concepts & Methods section describes the IMIRA project, which aims at a better consideration of people with a migrant background in health monitoring. The analyses published in this issue of the Journal will be presented at the Congress ‘Armut und Gesundheit’ in Berlin on March 14th and 15th 2019.

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