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Ethnic Gaps In Life Expectancy Closing

30 March 2004

Ethnic Gaps In Life Expectancy Appear To Be Closing Again

Latest statistics suggest that Maori may be benefiting from social, health policies

The latest life expectancy estimates released today by Statistics New Zealand suggest that Mäori life expectancy has started to increase again – after two decades of little or no improvement.

Using pioneering methods developed by researchers at the University of Otago to adjust for undercounting of Mäori and Pacific deaths, the latest official statistics point to a significant positive shift in health outcomes, says Dr Tony Blakely of the Wellington School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

“During the 1980s and 1990s, the gap between Mäori and non-Mäori life expectancy widened from six or seven years, to about nine years,” Dr Blakely explained. “What we see today is that between 1995-97 and 2000-01 this gap stopped widening – and probably even narrowed by about half a year – due to good improvements in Mäori life expectancy that matched and even bettered improvements in non-Mäori life expectancy.”

As to why those gaps might be closing again – as they were in the 1950s to 1970s – Dr Blakely pointed to the likely importance of New Zealand’s changing economic and social structures.

“It is hard to escape the conclusion that the structural reform in New Zealand society during the 1980s and early 1990s hit Mäori harder than non-Mäori, and that now we are seeing a ‘health recovery’,” he says.

A number of factors are probably responsible for the health improvement, including general improvements in economic performance, Mäori development, and investment in Mäori by Mäori for Mäori health services.

“It is likely that the bi-partisan efforts of both the 1996-99 National-led and the 1999-2002 Labour-led governments to assist Mäori development generally, and more specifically in the health services, have helped,” he says. “It takes time for health statistics to turn the corner. Now is not the time for rocking the boat and pulling apart social and health policy that is helping to reduce inequalities in health. Now is the time for New Zealand to continue building a cohesive and inclusive society.”

ENDS

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