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Asians have lowest mortality rates in elderly

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Wednesday 18 February 2009 9:22am

A study by the University of Otago, Wellington has revealed that Asians, around 10% of the population, have the lowest mortality rates in those over 65 years. Those with the highest mortality levels in old age are Māori and Pacific people.

The study into ethnic inequalities in mortality among the elderly by Dr Santosh Jatrana and Professor Tony Blakely has recently been published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health and reveals for the first time significant disparities in old age mortality rates between Māori, Pacific, Asians and those of other ethnic origins.

In this analysis of census and mortality data 'Asians' include people from East, South East and South Asia including India and Pakistan, but exclude those from the Middle East and Central Asia.

Māori and Pacific males have 59% and 41% higher mortality rates for over 65 year olds than non Māori/ non Pacific/ non Asian, while elderly Asian males have a 41% lower mortality risk. Females follow a similar pattern, although Māori women between 65-74 years have rates 164% higher than non Māori/non Pacific/non Asian.

"Essentially this study shows that ethnic differences in mortality rates in New Zealand persist into old age," says Dr Jatrana." It shows that Asians have the lowest mortality rates of all groups in the over 65 age group."

"This gap or 'mortality advantage' for Asians actually increases when five socio-economic factors are taken into account."

This is in contrast to Māori and Pacific groups, where when socio-economic factors are taken into account the mortality disparity with other ethnicities is reduced. The researchers believe that around 40% of the gap in mortality rates of Māori and Pacific groups is as a result of five socio-economic factors.

However Māori and Pacific mortality disparities tend to level off in the 'old old', that is people over 85 years, although again Asian males are the exception to the rule.

These results mirror studies in the US which show lower death rates for Asians than Caucasian Americans, although Asians have the most advantaged socio-economic composition of all ethnic groups studied in the USA. This is in contrast to New Zealand, where Asians are in lower socio-economic groups on average.

The study used models based on the New Zealand census and mortality data for older adults (65+ years) between 2001-2004, in conjunction with a comprehensive set of socio-economic indicators: education, income, car access, housing tenure, and neighbourhood deprivation.

This study was funded by the Health Research Council and the Ministry of Health as a joint project between the Ministry and the University of Otago.

For further information contact

Dr Santosh Jatrana
University of Otago, Wellington
Tel 64 4 918 5071

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