Sir Michael Marmot decries inequities

November - December, 2008  |  Volume 7, Issue 6

Sir Michael Marmot stands at a podium
Sir Michael Marmot

Sir Michael Marmot, one of the world's leading social epidemiologists, says political action ought to go hand in hand with more research.

"I think these two bird calls can work in harmony," he said in an energetic lecture at Wilson Hall.

Marmot chaired a recent WHO commission on social determinants of health and offered numerous examples of health disparities from its findings.

"In the Scottish city of Glasgow, men in the poorest part have a life expectancy of 54 and in the richest part they have a life expectancy of 82--a 28-year difference," he said. "In Washington DC, life expectancy for black men is 63--in the suburbs of Montgomery County, Maryland (home to the NIH), it's 80."

Marmot, director of the International Institute for Society and Health at University College London, also stressed the importance of health care systems as one of the social determinants of health. He said while health care inequities are not the primary cause of disparities in outcome, 100 million people worldwide are still forced into poverty every year as a result of out-of-pocket health care expenditures.

Marmot offered some optimism, citing the success of social programs targeting negative parenting, such as the Sure Start program in England. "We do have in our hands the tools to make a major difference in the gap within and between countries," he said. "Were we to try to put into action much of what we know, we could go a long way toward closing the gap in a generation."

Marmot, a cardiologist by training, was knighted for his work in epidemiology and for his understanding of health inequalities.

For more on the WHO report, see http://www.tinyurl.com/4b4l6n.

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