Trends in material and non-material inequalities in adolescent health and health behaviours: A 12-year study in 23 European countries

Maxim Dierckens, Matthias Richter, Irene Moor, Frank J Elgar, Els Clays, Benedicte Deforche, Bart De Clercq

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Information on trends in adolescent health inequalities is scarce but the available evidence suggests that inequalities are increasing. Prior studies describe associations between material resources of socioeconomic status (SES) and health, while information on non-material SES resources and inequalities in health behaviours is lacking. To improve current understandings of evolutions in adolescent health inequalities, we examined how material and non-material SES resources were associated with changes in selected health outcomes (life satisfaction, physical and psychological symptoms) and health behaviours (physical activity, screen time, breakfast, fruit, vegetables, sweets and soft drinks consumption and alcohol and tobacco use) over a 12-year period. Repeated cross-sectional data came from the 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014 waves of the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) survey from 23 European countries (n = 480,386). Measures of family affluence and occupational social class were used as indicators of material and non-material SES resources respectively. Regression-based slope indices of inequality indicated that absolute material and non-material inequalities remained stable from 2002 to 2014 in all health outcomes, except for life satisfaction for which a decrease in material inequalities was found between the highest and lowest affluence group (0.81 to 0.68 difference; p < 0.001). In terms of health behaviours, material inequalities decreased in screen time between highest and lowest affluence groups (0.53 to 0.34 h/day difference; p < 0.001), fruit (odds ratio [OR] 1.89 to 1.72 lower odds; p = 0.0088) and soft drinks consumption (OR 1.36 to 1.13 lower odds; p < 0.001) and remained stable in all others. Non-material inequalities increased in all health behaviours (except for sweets consumption) between highest and lowest occupational social class groups: physical activity (0.16 to 0.24 h/day difference; p = 0.0071), screen time (-0.41 to -0.58 h/day difference; p < 0.001), breakfast (0.21 to 0.51 day/week difference; p < 0.001), fruit (OR 1.23 to 1.48 higher odds; p < 0.001), vegetables (OR 1.39 to 1.74 higher odds; p < 0.001) and soft drinks consumption (OR 0.59 to 0.43 lower odds; p < 0.001) and alcohol (OR 0.99 to 0.85 lower odds; p = 0.0420) and tobacco use (OR 0.71 to 0.59 lower odds; p = 0.0183). In summary, non-material inequalities in most health behaviours increased, whereas material inequalities in adolescent health and health behaviours remain stable or decreased. Policies and interventions may consider non-material SES components as these can help in reducing future health inequalities.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107018
JournalPreventive Medicine
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022

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