BACKGROUND: Poor housing conditions have been associated with increased mortality. Our objective is to investigate the association between housing inequality and increased mortality in Belgium and to estimate the number of deaths that could be prevented if the population of the whole country faced the mortality rates experienced in areas that are least deprived in terms of housing.
METHODS: We used individual-level mortality data extracted from the National Register in Belgium and relative to deaths that occurred between Jan. 1, 1991, and Dec. 31, 2020. Spatial and time-specific housing deprivation indices (1991, 2001, and 2011) were created at the level of the smallest geographical unit in Belgium, with these units assigned into deciles from the most to the least deprived. We calculated mortality associated with housing inequality as the difference between observed and expected deaths by applying mortality rates of the least deprived decile to other deciles. We also used standard life table calculations to estimate the potential years of life lost due housing inequality.
RESULTS: Up to 18.5% (95% CI 17.7-19.3) of all deaths between 1991 and 2020 may be associated with housing inequality, corresponding to 584,875 deaths. Over time, life expectancy at birth increased for the most and least deprived deciles by about 3.5 years. The gap in life expectancy between the two deciles remained high, on average 4.6 years. Life expectancy in Belgium would increase by approximately 3 years if all deciles had the mortality rates of the least deprived decile.
CONCLUSIONS: Thousands of deaths in Belgium could be avoided if all Belgian neighborhoods had the mortality rates of the least deprived areas in terms of housing. Hotspots of housing inequalities need to be located and targeted with tailored public actions.