PEOPLE in the south-west are being wrongly blamed for their high rates of cardiovascular disease according to a new report.
The research instead points to social and economic factors having a major influence on cardiovascular rates, no matter where people live.
Greater Green Triangle University department of rural health (GGT UDRH) director and contributing researcher Professor James Dunbar said there was no greater difference between rural and metro areas where the socio-economic circumstances were the same.
He said the impression was given that rural people were to blame but it needed to be taken into account that in rural areas people were likely to be older, less educated and poorer.
“We can’t point the finger and say these people bring it on themselves,” Professor Dunbar said.
The research found families with low incomes and living in areas of poor infrastructure and relatively poor access to health services have higher rates of cardiovascular disease.
It is the first study to take into account socio-economic circumstance, which Professor Dunbar said indicated there were not enough national risk factor studies in Australia.
Professor Dunbar said for things to change, rural areas needed to attract younger, educated people.
He said better campaigns around healthy eating habits would also be welcomed.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had a campaign against salt, which is the biggest contributor to high blood pressure,” he said.
“And there has been little done about saturated and trans fats.
“We know that it’s more highly-educated people who are faster to make better choices.
“No longer can governments dismiss the health disparity as being inherently or solely attributable to location. The solution to health inequity, wherever it exists, is for governments and communities to work together to ensure greater investment in areas lacking in infrastructure, services and access on the basis of unmet need.”
The study compared important measures of physical and biomedical risk between a rural population (Greater Green Triangle in south-west Victoria and south-east South Australia) and an urban population (north-west Adelaide) and was conducted in conjunction with population research and outcome studies, University Of Adelaide.
Last week Professor Dunbar was joined by Professor Chris van Weel, of primary health care at the Australian Primary Healthcare Research Institute (APHRI), at the Australian National University in Canberra.
It was Professor van Weel’s first visit to Warrnambool to review local research and hold discussions with Professor Dunbar on establishing an international network and conference on health policy research.
Professor van Weel said he was impressed by the work being undertaken by the GGT UDRH and that having well-connected, rural-based research was important.
“Regional centres like this can make sure we don’t reinvent the wheel in every community but develop services from the bottom up. It is important to help primary health care practitioners to help themselves and to use a bottom-up approach,” he said.