The ageing society is a challenge

With a growing proportion of older people in the population, the need to understand what factors are important for the health of the elderly becomes increasingly important. Johan Fritzell, professor of social gerontology, is conducting research into how socio-economic factors, such as economy and education, affect how healthy we are and how long we live.

Professor Johan Fritzell. Photo: Thomas Carlgren.

Johan Fritzell is researching into how social inequality affects health. At the­ start of the year he became professor of social gerontology at Stockholm University and KI's joint centre ARC, the Aging Research Center, after twelve years as professor at its sister centre CHESS.

"My move to ARC is a logical continuation and at the same time a certain change in direction compared with what I have done in the past," he says. "I keep the socio-economic perspective, but I now focus more on the health of the elderly.”

There are clear discrepancies in health between social groups which persist throughout people's lives. Johan Fritzell's research is about the ­reasons behind these differences and how the gap develops over time.

"Unfortunately, the current trend is an increase in the health gap between different groups," he says. "Put simply, there is an increase in life expectancy for groups with high levels of education and income, while it has stagnated for those with low education and lower income."

Comprehensive personal ­registers

Johan Fritzell mainly conducts his research with the aid of comprehensive personal ­registers. He is also involved in international research­ collaboration such as the WHO programme Social Determinants of Health, and cooperates extensively with Brazilian universities, in particular UERJ in Rio de Janeiro.

In Fritzell's group at ARC, much research is also conducted into the organisation of health care and nursing of the elderly by the welfare state.

"The ageing society is one of the most fundamental major societal changes of our time, not only in Sweden but in many parts of the world," he says. "It is fundamentally a great success that average life expectancy has increased so significantly - but also a challenge!"

Text: Anders Nilsson, first published in Swedish in the booklet "Från Cell till Samhälle 2014".