People living in poverty may be 1.5 times or 46 per cent more at risk of an early death than individuals who are obese and heavily consume alcohol, a study has found.
The findings showed that low socio-economic status -- determined in a big way by factors such as education, income and work -- is linked to significant reductions in life expectancy and also likely to increase death rate in such people.
However, socio-economic status, which is one of the strongest predictors of illness and early death worldwide, is often overlooked in health policies, the researchers said.
"Given the huge impact of socio-economic status on health, it's vital that governments accept it as a major risk factor and stop excluding it from health policy," said lead author Silvia Stringhini from the Lausanne University Hospital in Switzerland.
For the study, published by The Lancet, the team included data from 48 studies comprising more than 1.7 million people from the UK, France, Switzerland, Portugal, Italy, US and Australia and used a person's job title to estimate their socio-economic status and looked at whether they died early.
The results revealed that when compared with their wealthier counterparts, people with low socio-economic status were almost 1.5 times (46 per cent) more likely to die before they were 85 years old.
The greatest reductions in life expectancy were found in people who smoked tobacco and had diabetes (4.8 and 3.9 years respectively).
Comparatively, high blood pressure, obesity and high alcohol consumption were associated with smaller reductions in life expectancy (1.6, 0.7 and 0.5 years respectively) than low socio-economic status.
Having low social rank means limited opportunities which can shape both the lifestyle as well as life chances, the researchers noted.
Thus, "reducing poverty, improving education and creating safe home, school and work environments are central to overcoming the impact of socio-economic deprivation.
"By doing this, socio-economic status could be targeted and improved, leading to better wealth and health for many," Stringhini said.