Objectives: To overcome the absence of socio-economic information in administrative databases and to monitor social inequalities in health, a material and social deprivation index was developed for Québec and Canada.
Methods: The index is based on the smallest area unit used in Canadian censuses, with 400 to 700 persons on average. It includes six socio-economic indicators grouped along two dimensions - material and social - produced from principal component analyses. The index exists for 1991, 1996, 2001 and 2006 and in different versions, from local areas to the whole of Canada. Numerous products related to the index are available online free of charge.
Results: The index has been used extensively in the field of health and social services, mainly in the province of Québec but also elsewhere in Canada. It has had four main uses, all related to public health: describing geographic variations of deprivation, illustrating inequalities in population health status and in service use according to deprivation, supporting the development of health reports and policies, and guiding regional resource allocation. These applications are facilitated by a close partnership between the producers and users of the index.
Conclusion: The deprivation index is a marker of social inequalities in health. It allows for monitoring of inequalities over time and space, and constitutes a useful tool for public health planning, intervention and service delivery.
Keywords: Québec; deprivation index; public health; small-area analysis; socio-economic factors.