ASSESSING THE SOCIOECONOMIC GRADIENT OF WALKING SPEED AS A MEASURE OF GENERAL HEALTH AMONG OLDER ADULTS USING THE CANADIAN LONGITUDINAL STUDY ON AGING
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Background: As the Canadian population ages understanding inequality in health among older adults is critical, and identifying good measures of health to assess the socioeconomic gradient of health among older adults is essential. Walking speed is an objective measure of health and attracting increasing attention as a potentially useful measure of general health among older adults. The goal of this project was to explore the use of walking speed as a measure of health in the assessment of the socioeconomic gradient among older adults in Canada. Methods: With a sample of 25,064 observations (50.60% female) from the first follow-up data of the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging Comprehensive, we used separate Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) regression models to assess associations between walking speed and other measures of health (frailty, number of chronic conditions, activities of daily living, and self-rated health) and to examine the association between walking speed and socioeconomic status adjusting for demographic, anthropometric, health behaviour, social, and geographic variables. Walking speed was measured by a 4-meter timed walk. Results: The mean walking speed of the sample was 0.98 m/s (SD =0.18). Walking speed was clinically and statistically significantly associated with frailty. Walking speed exhibited an independent, statistically significant socioeconomic gradient with the highest income category walking on average 0.06 m/s (99% CI: 0.039, 0.082) faster than the lowest income category. Policy Implications: Our findings suggest that walking speed is a useful measure of health in the assessment of health inequality among older adults. Walking speed can be considered as a simpler alternative to frailty and an objective measure alternative to the popular subjective measure of self-rated health. Identifying the usefulness of walking speed, this study filled an important gap in the health measurement and health inequality literature and expands an option for policy makers and researchers to accurately depict the distribution of health in the aging population.