The association between area deprivation and health has mostly been examined in cross-sectional studies or prospective studies with short follow-up. These studies have rarely taken migration into account. This is a possible source of misclassification of exposure, i.e. an unknown number of study participants are attributed an exposure of area deprivation that they may have experienced too short for it to have any influence. The aim of this article was to examine to what extent associations between area deprivation and health outcomes were biased by recent migration.
Based on data from the Oslo Health Study, a cross-sectional study conducted in 2000 in Oslo, Norway, we used six health outcomes (self rated health, mental health, coronary heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, smoking and exercise) and considered migration nine years prior to the study conduct. Migration into Oslo, between the areas of Oslo, and the changes in area deprivation during the period were taken into account. Associations were investigated by multilevel logistic regression analyses.
After adjustment for individual socio-demographic variables we found significant associations between area deprivation and all health outcomes. Accounting for migration into Oslo and between areas of Oslo did not change these associations much. However, the people who migrated into Oslo were younger and had lower prevalences of unfavourable health outcomes than those who were already living in Oslo. But since they were evenly distributed across the area deprivation quintiles, they had little influence on the associations between area deprivation and health. Evidence of selective migration within Oslo was weak, as both moving up and down in the deprivation hierarchy was associated with significantly worse health than not moving.
We have documented significant associations between area deprivation and health outcomes in Oslo after adjustment for socio-demographic variables in a cross-sectional study. These associations were weakly biased by recent migration. From our results it still appears that migration prior to study conduct may be relevant to investigate even within a relatively short period of time, whereas changes in area deprivation during such a period is of limited interest.