Poverty and Lupus
It is a well-established fact that poor people with chronic disease have poorer outcomes than well-off people with chronic disease. People with lupus have not been able to escape this reality. Research in diseases other than lupus has shown that characteristics of the neighborhood in which people live can also affect a person’s health. For example, studies done by sociologists have shown that living in a poverty-stricken area accentuates the negative effects of being poor yourself.
What Problem Was Studied?
Because of the results of the sociological research, health science researchers – led by Laura Trupin, MPH, and including Arthritis Foundation-funded scientists Jinoos Yazdany, MD, MPH, Lindsey A. Criswell, MD, and Edward Yelin, PhD – decided to examine the joint effects of personal poverty and neighborhood poverty on the health of people with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE; lupus).
What Was Done in the Study?
The team from University of California, San Francisco, used data from the Lupus Outcomes Study to determine the contribution of neighborhood socioeconomic status (SES) to lupus outcomes over and above the contribution of individual SES.
Individual SES was determined using three measurements: educational attainment, annual household income and poverty level. Participants were considered to be living in poverty if their income and number of people in the house put them at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty threshold. For a family of four, this translated to an annual income of less than $23,000.
Neighborhood SES was determined by the percentage of households in a neighborhood living at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty threshold. If 30 percent of households are below that level, the neighborhood is considered a high poverty area.
As well as obtaining this economic information, the research team also gathered data on the participants’ health. For this study, they measured disease activity, overall physical functioning and symptoms of depression.
What Were the Study Results?
After adjusting for confounding variables, lower education, lower income and poverty all were associated with higher disease activity, poorer physical function and more depression. Likewise, living in a high poverty area was also associated with greater lupus activity, poorer physical function and higher likelihood of depression. When evaluating the simultaneous effect of low individual SES and high levels of neighborhood poverty, however, neighborhood poverty had an adverse impact on only the mental health of people with lupus. Of participants who were personally poor and lived in a poor neighborhood, 76 percent had clinically significant depression, whereas just 32 percent of those who were neither poor nor lived in a poor area had scores indicative of depression.
What Does this Mean for People With Lupus?
Other studies have found that living in a poor neighborhood – even if you yourself are not poor – is linked to greater morbidity and mortality. This study did not confirm that to be the case in people with lupus. The authors do conclude, “However, our finding that community poverty is independently associated with increased rates of depressive symptoms suggests that, in this group of individuals facing the challenges of a potentially severe and complex disease, living in a poor community further jeopardizes mental health status.” Because depression is a distinct manifestation of lupus, indeed a symptom of the disease, the risk for a poor outcome is even greater when poverty compounds the situation.
The research team will now turn its attention to uncovering the reasons why the combination of personal and community poverty has such an adverse effect on the mental well-being of persons with lupus. One hypothesis to be tested is that neighborhoods with high concentrations of poor people are stressful places to live because of crime rates and poor access to health care professionals.
Trupin L, Tonner MC, Yazdany J, et al. The role of neighborhood and individual socioeconomic status in outcomes of systemic lupus erythematosus. J Rheumatol 2008; e-pub ahead of print July 15.
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