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Greater health risks in the east of Austria

(Vienna, 30th December 2012) Anyone living in the east of Austria is at greater risk of getting ill. This is the result of a study by the Institute of Social Medicine (Centre for Public Health) at the Medical University of Vienna, which was based on a survey by Statistik Austria of around 15,000 people.

The study investigated mortality from cardiovascular disease over the last seven years, in combination with the known risk factors such as diabetes mellitus, being overweight (obesity), high blood pressure, physical activity or inactivity, smoking, level of education and social factors. “We compared the mortality data from the past seven years in relation to cardiovascular diseases in Austria and we were able to determine that there are significant differences, the further east you go,” says Thomas Dorner from the Institute of Social Medicine.

The same geographic patterns were seen in relation to risk factors. “For the first time, mental and social factors were also found to be co-contributors to the geographical differences in mortality in Austria.”

The result is clear: In Burgenland, the mortality rate for cardiovascular diseases among men is 372.4 per 100,000 inhabitants; in Vienna, it is 370.8. For women, the most eastern state "leads the way" at 501.2 per 100,000 ahead of Vienna (491.7). By way of comparison, the Tyrol is exemplary for both statistics, citing 271.3 and 403.9 deaths respectively. The gender gap can be explained by the fact that women are living longer and therefore dying more commonly from cardiovascular diseases.

There are many reasons for the east-west divide. Says Dorner: “Sport and exercise play a very different role in Western Austria than in the east, for example.” The survey also shows that many people in Eastern Austria complain of a lack of social support for health or mental problems. As regards the level of education, the cleft is pretty much held together due to the higher proportion of academics in the east. A lower level of education is known to go hand in hand with a higher risk of health problems. Says Dorner: “If we had as many academics in the west as we do in the east, then the difference between the east and west would possibly be even more dramatic.”

The same divide has also been seen in similar studies in Germany and France. Switzerland, on the other hand, is the country with the lowest mortality rate for cardiovascular diseases.

This result, says Dorner, is the incentive to take prevention more seriously and to develop suitable prevention programmes that include the factor of mental health. The prerequisites need to be established in society that will enable people to change their poor living conditions: “The question now is, what can society and what can decision-makers do to help?"

Service: International Journal of Health Georgraphics
"East-West gradient in cardio-vascular mortality in Austria: how much can we explain by following the pattern of risk factors?" Katharina V Stein, Anita Rieder, Thomas E Dorner. doi:10.1186/1476-072X-10-59