Background Previous evaluations of area-based initiatives have not compared intervention areas with the full range of areas from top to bottom of the social spectrum to evaluate their health inequalities impact.
Setting Deprived areas subject to the New Deal for Communities (NDC) intervention, local deprivation-matched comparator areas, and areas drawn from across the socioeconomic spectrum (representing high, medium and low deprivation) in England between 2002 and 2008.
Data Secondary analysis of biannual repeat cross-sectional surveys collected for the NDC National Evaluation Team and the Health Survey for England (HSE).
Methods Following data harmonisation, baseline and time trends in six health and social determinants of health outcomes were compared. Individual-level data were modelled using regression to adjust for age, sex, ethnic and socioeconomic differences among respondents.
Results Compared with respondents in HSE low deprivation areas, those in NDC intervention areas experienced a significantly steeper improvement in education, a trend towards a steeper improvement in self-rated health, and a significantly less steep reduction in smoking between 2002 and 2008. In HSE high deprivation areas, significantly less steep improvements in five out of six outcomes were seen compared with HSE low deprivation areas.
Conclusions Although unable to consider prior trends and previous initiatives, our findings provide cautious optimism that well-resourced and constructed area-based initiatives can reduce, or at least prevent the widening of, social inequalities for selected outcomes between the most and least deprived groups of areas.