An ecological study on health inequalities in the city of Bologna (Emilia-Romagna Region, Northern Italy): bridging knowledge and action

Epidemiol Prev. 2020 Sep-Dec;44(5-6 Suppl 1):45-53. doi: 10.19191/EP20.5-6.S1.P045.073.


Background: since January 2017, a multidisciplinary research group, involving the Local Health Authority, the Municipality, and the University of Bologna, carried out a city-wide action-research project on health inequalities consisting of an ecological study over the years 2011-2015 based on indicators that are routinely available within health and social services.

Objectives: to document existing geographical inequalities in health outcomes and use of healthcare services in the city of Bologna (Emilia-Romagna Region, Northern Italy), with the aim to suggest policy action to tackle them.

Design: the results of the first phase of the above-mentioned project were reported: five related to the social determinants of health (exposure) and five related to the social determinants of ill-health (outcomes). For each municipal statistical area, the distribution of the exposures as well as rates and Bayesian Relative Risks of the outcomes were plotted on the city map. To evaluate the association between social determinants and health outcomes, Spearman correlation coefficients were estimated.

Setting and participants: residents in the city of Bologna aged >=18 years in the period 2011-2015, grouped into 90 statistical areas.

Results: a North-South divide was apparent for most of the socioeconomic and ill-health indicators, with a high concentration of adverse outcomes in the North-Western part of the city. Adherence to cancer screening represented an exception, being greater in the areas with higher proportion of unfavourable health outcomes. An inverse association between education level and health outcomes was found. Low family income was weakly to moderately correlated with health outcomes. Proportion of residents in council houses and of the teenage foreign population showed a moderate to strong association with all outcomes, but mortality and screening adherence.

Conclusions: an ecological analysis based on data that are routinely collected by local health and social institutions can be effective in revealing the geographical patterns of health inequalities. When accompanied by strategic choices aimed at bridging knowledge and action, this approach may facilitate the direct engagement of local actors towards health equity.

Keywords: health inequities; know-do gap; ecological analysis; multi-stakeholder approach; action-research..

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Educational Status
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Italy / epidemiology
  • Poverty*