A new study suggests growing up in a low-income bracket leads to poor health in Manitoba children.

The study, conducted in collaboration with investigators from the Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba and scientists from the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy at the University of Manitoba, used health data to determine how socioeconomic factors are associated with children’s health.

According to lead author Dr. Atul Sharma, an assistant professor of pediatrics and child health at U of M, most studies of this nature have focused on adults.

“We know that in general, factors such as poverty, unstable housing and living in a neighbourhood with a low average level of education are linked with poorer health,” he said in a news release.

“But scientists who analyze data to understand what forms of deprivation and marginalization are associated with what health problems usually focus on adults. Few studies have looked at children.”

The study used research tools called ‘area-based socioeconomic measures,’ which use census data and are broken down by postal code. Researchers develop these measures by combining different types of data for each neighbourhood, such as average household income, the unemployment rate and the high school completion rate.

The researchers then tested the area-based socioeconomic measures against anonymous health data stored in the Manitoba Population Research Data Repository. The study looked at children’s health in Manitoba neighbourhood’s between 2010 and 2015, analyzing health outcomes such as premature birth rates; low birth weight and breastfeeding; infant and neonatal mortality rates; childhood hospitalization; and teen pregnancy rates.


Researchers found that for 19 of the 20 health outcomes they studied, there were “significant” inequalities in terms of neighbourhood socioeconomic status. They also determined income level alone could predict 16 of these health inequalities.

The study found that in Manitoba’s lowest-income neighbourhoods, the infant mortality rate was more than double the rate in highest-income neighbourhoods. The hospitalization rate was also more than double, and the teen pregnancy rate was more than 10 times higher.

“In adults, it’s been found that more nuanced, multidimensional indexes -- not just income -- are needed to capture the relationships between socioeconomic status and health outcomes,” said Sharma.

“We thought the same would be true for children. We were surprised that income level alone was so strongly associated with health disadvantages in kids and teens.”

The study recommends this research be used when making health-care policy.