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The utility of geodemographic indicators in small area estimates of limiting long-term illness

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Small area health data are not always available on a consistent and robust routine basis across nations, necessitating the employment of small area estimation methods to generate local-scale data or the use of proxy measures. Geodemographic indicators are widely marketed as a potential proxy for many health indicators. This paper tests the extent to which the inclusion of geodemographic indicators in small area estimation methodology can enhance small area estimates of limiting long-term illness (LLTI). The paper contributes to international debates on small area estimation methodologies in health research and the relevance of geodemographic indicators to the identification of health care needs. We employ a multilevel methodology to estimate small area LLTI prevalence in England, Scotland and Wales. The estimates were created with a standard geographically-based model and with a cross-classified model of individuals nested separately in both spatial groupings and non-spatial geodemographic clusters. LLTI prevalence was estimated as a function of age, sex and deprivation. Estimates from the cross-classified model additionally incorporated residuals relating to the geodemographic classification. Both sets of estimates were compared against direct estimates from the 2011 Census. Geodemographic clusters remain relevant to understanding LLTI even after controlling for age, sex and deprivation. Incorporating a geodemographic indicator significantly improves concordance between the small area estimates and the Census. Small area estimates are however consistently below the equivalent Census measures, with the LLTI prevalence in urban areas characterized as ‘blue collar’ and ‘struggling families’ being markedly lower. We conclude that the inclusion of a geodemographic indicator in small area estimation can improve estimate quality and enhance understanding of health inequalities. We recommend the inclusion of geodemographic indicators in public releases of survey data to facilitate better small area estimation but caution against assumptions that geodemographic indicators can, on their own, provide a proxy measure of health status.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial Science & Medicine
Early online date26 Jun 2018
DOIs
Publication statusEarly online - 26 Jun 2018

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