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Social determinants of multimorbidity and multiple functional limitations among the ageing population of England, 2002 – 2015

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Article number100413
Number of pages12
JournalSSM - Population Health
Early online date30 May 2019
DateAccepted/In press - 14 May 2019
DateE-pub ahead of print - 30 May 2019
DatePublished (current) - 1 Aug 2019


This study explores longitudinal relationships between material, psycho-social and behavioural social determinants of health and multimorbidity of people aged 50 years or older in England. We used data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing collected biannually between 2002 and 2015. Apart from the basic measure of multimorbidity (two or more diseases within a person) we constructed two distinct measures of health in order to take into account the biology of ageing (complex multimorbidity and multiple functional limitations).

We found that the likelihood of multimorbidity and multiple functional limitations was consistently associated with the levels of household wealth, sense of control over one’s life, physical activity and loneliness. Larger health inequalities were observed when health was measured as complex multimorbidity and multiple functional limitations than basic multimorbidity. Compared to the population group with the highest wealth, those with the lowest wealth had 47% higher odds of basic multimorbidity (95% C.I. 1.34-1.61), 73% higher odds of complex multimorbidity (95% C.I. 1.52-1.96) and 90% higher odds of having 10 or more functional limitations (95% C.I. 1.59-2.26). We did not find a dose-response relationship between alcohol consumption, smoking and multimorbidity but rather evidence of people in ill health actively moderating their health behaviour.

We suggest that materialist models of multimorbidity and functional limitation at older age can not, on their own, explain the health inequalities as the behavioural and psycho-social factors play an important role. Policies aiming to reduce the risk of multimorbidity and functional limitation should address the issue at these three levels simultaneously, using the existing national infrastructure of General Practices.

    Research areas

  • Multimorbidity, complex multimorbidity, multiple functional limitations, social determinansts of health, ageing, health inequalities

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    Licence: CC BY-NC-ND


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