Background Neighbourhood deprivation has been associated with poor health. The evidence for social causation, however, remains scarce because selective residential mobility may also create neighbourhood differences. The present study examined whether individuals had poorer health when they were living in a deprived neighbourhood compared to another time when the same individuals were living in a less deprived neighbourhood.
Methods Participants were from the British Household Panel Survey prospective cohort study with 18 annual measurements of residential location and self-reported health outcomes between 1991 and 2009 (n=137 884 person-observations of 17 001 persons in England). Neighbourhood deprivation was assessed concurrently with health outcomes using the Index of Multiple Deprivation at the geographically detailed level of Lower Layer Super Output Areas. The main analyses were replicated in subsamples from Scotland (n=4897) and Wales (n=4442). Multilevel regression was used to separate within-individual and between-individuals associations.
Results Neighbourhood deprivation was associated with poorer self-rated health, and with higher psychological distress, functional health limitations and number of health problems. These associations were almost exclusively due to differences between different individuals rather than within-individual variations related to different neighbourhoods. By contrast, poorer health was associated with lower odds of moving to less deprived neighbourhoods among movers. The analysis was limited by the restricted within-individual variation and measurement imprecision of neighbourhood deprivation.
Conclusions Individuals living in deprived neighbourhoods have poorer health, but it appears that neighbourhood deprivation is not causing poorer health of adults. Instead, neighbourhood health differentials may reflect the more fundamental social inequalities that determine health and ability to move between deprived and non-deprived neighbourhoods.
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