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A multilevel analysis of the effects of rurality and social deprivation on premature limiting long term illness


STUDY OBJECTIVE To examine the geographical variation in self perceived morbidity in the south west of England, and assess the associations with rurality and social deprivation.

DESIGN A geographically based cross sectional study using 1991 census data on premature Limiting Long Term Illness (LLTI). The urban-rural and intra-rural variation in standardised premature LLTI ratios is described, and correlation and regression analyses explore how well this is explained by generic deprivation indices. Multilevel Poisson modelling investigates whether Customised Deprivation Profiles (CDPs) and area characteristics improve upon the generic indices.

SETTING Nine counties in the south west of England

PARTICIPANTS The population of the south west enumerated in the 1991 census.

MAIN RESULTS Intra-rural variation is apparent, with higher rates of premature LLTI in remoter areas. Together with high rates in urban areas and lower rates in the semi-rural areas this indicates the existence of a U shaped relation with rurality. The generic deprivation indices have strong positive relations with premature LLTI in urban areas, but these are a lot weaker in semi-rural and rural locations. CDPs improve upon the generic indices, especially in the rural settings. A substantial reduction in unexplained variation in rural areas is seen after controlling for the level of local isolation, with higher isolation, at the wider geographical scale, being related to higher levels of LLTI.

CONCLUSIONS This study highlights the need to treat rural areas as heterogeneous, although this has not been the tendency in health research. Generic deprivation indices are unlikely to be a true reflection of levels of deprivation in rural environments. The importance of CDPs that are specific to the area type and health outcome is emphasised. The significance of physical isolation suggests that accessibility to public and health services may be an important issue, and requires further research.

  • rural health
  • limiting long term illness
  • deprivation indices

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  • Funding: Sarah Barnett is supported by Medical Research Council studentship G610/47.

  • Conflicts of interest: none.