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Environmental inequality and circulatory disease mortality gradients
  1. Murray M Finkelstein1,
  2. Michael Jerrett2,
  3. Malcolm R Sears3
  1. 1Program in Occupational Health and Environmental Medicine and Institute of Environment and Health, McMaster University, Toronto, Canada
  2. 2School of Geography and Geology, Health Studies Program and Institute of Environment and Health, McMaster University
  3. 3Department of Medicine, McMaster University
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr M Finkelstein
 Family Medicine Centre, Suite 413, Mt Sinai Hospital, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5G 1X5;


Study objective: Studies in Europe and North America have reported that living in a disadvantaged neighbourhood is associated with an increased incidence of coronary heart disease. The aim of this study was to test the hypotheses that exposure to traffic and air pollution might account for some of the socioeconomic differences in mortality rates in a city where residents are covered by universal health insurance.

Design: Cohort mortality study. Individual postal codes used to derive: (1) socioeconomic status from census data; (2) mean air pollution levels from interpolation between governmental monitoring stations; (3) proximity to traffic from the geographical information system. Analysis conducted with Cox proportional hazards models.

Setting: Hamilton Census Metropolitan Area, Ontario, Canada, on the western tip of Lake Ontario (population about 480 000).

Participants: 5228 people, aged 40 years or more, identified from register of lung function laboratory at an academic respirology clinic between 1985 and 1999.

Main results: Circulatory disease (cardiovascular and stroke) mortality rates were related to measures of neighbourhood deprivation. Circulatory disease mortality rates were also associated with indices of long term ambient pollution at the subjects’ residences (relative risk 1.06, 1.00 to 1.13) and with proximity to traffic (relative risk 1.40, 1.08 to 1.81). Subjects in more deprived neighbourhoods had greater exposure to ambient particulate and gaseous pollutants and to traffic.

Conclusions: At least some of the observed social gradients in circulatory mortality arise from inequalities in environmental exposure to background and traffic air pollutants.

  • SES, socioeconomic status
  • GIS, geographical information system
  • BMI, body mass index
  • HIN, health insurance number
  • PFT, pulmonary function testing
  • FVC, forced vital capacity
  • FEV, forced expiratory volume
  • TSP, total suspended particulate
  • DI, deprivation index
  • EA, enumeration area
  • air pollution
  • socioeconomic status
  • cardiovascular mortality
  • GIS
  • Hamilton

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  • Funding: this research was supported by grants from the Toxic Substances Research Initiative of Health Canda and from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research.

  • Conflicts of interest: none declared.

  • Ethics approval: this study was approved by the research ethics board at St Joseph’s HealthCare, Hamilton.

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