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


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. 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.

SSM - Population Health
Francisco Rowe
Francisco Rowe
Professor of Population Data Science

My research interests include human mobility and migration; economic geography and spatial inequality; geographic data science.