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Mortality from cardiovascular disease is declining in many European countries, but they remain socially patterned. Di Girolamo and colleagues investigate how inequalities in cardiovascular mortality have changed in 12 countries since the 1990s.1 In general, they appear cautiously optimistic, describing trends in such inequalities as ‘favourable overall’ while noting that further improvement is an important aspiration.
The paper raises an interesting (and old) question: which are more important, relative or absolute inequalities? The authors present both, which is good practice. It is not possible to summarise the distribution of mortality across social groups in a single number, no matter how much we might wish this to be the case. This fact is recognised by some policymakers; in Scotland, for example, the long-term monitoring of health inequalities2 includes publication of the relative index of inequality (detailing the magnitude of the inequality gradient), the absolute gap (the difference between groups at the extremes of the social spectrum) and the scale (indicating the magnitude of the problem).
To gauge the extent to which current trends should be regarded as favourable, we can examine future mortality. Di Girolamo et al provide the means to project cardiovascular disease mortality rates by occupational class (based on their Supplementary Tables S7 and S10). In table 1, we present various scenarios enabling us to look at potential future inequalities for upper non-manual employees and manual workers.
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