Wastewater reveals the lifestyles of different suburbs

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  Last updated October 15, 2019 at 11:37 am


A new study of wastewater suggests that education and occupation plays a role in diet and drug consumption.

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Why This Matters: Different socioeconomic groups have different behaviours, and need to be treated differently.

The consumption of caffeine, citrus, vitamin B and dietary fibre is higher in communities with higher socioeconomic status, according to new research from The University of Queensland.

The study, led by Queensland Alliance for Environmental Health Sciences (QAEHS) researchers, used analysis of wastewater to show a correlation between socioeconomics and diet and drug consumption.

The samples were collected from treatment plants across Australia, over seven consecutive days in 2016.

Chemicals in wastewater differs from demographics

Phil Choi, who led the research, says that the chemicals in wastewater reflect the social, demographic and economic characteristics of different populations.

“We found consumption of particular pharmaceuticals including tramadol and atenolol is higher in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas and where more people are employed as labourers,” Choi says.

Also: Pharmaceuticals found in our waterways could enter food chain

The researchers found that socieconomically disadvantaged people were less likely to consume grains, fruit, vegetables and high fibre foods.

“Dietary fibre consumption seems to be linked to a certain level of education and certain opioids and antidepressants seem to be linked to specific occupation types.”

Caffeine was associated with financial capability and higher education levels. Methamphetamine use on the other hand is lower in areas with higher education levels.

Smoking behaviour was linked more closely to social isolation rather than age.

However, when it came to antidepressants the researchers note a “lack of a consistent trend encompassing all age groups…”

Education and occupation can influence diet and drug consumption

This is the first time researchers have explored the relationships between chemicals in wastewater and social, demographic, and economic parameters in the population.

Prior to this study, wastewater-based epidemiology focused on reporting illicit drug and pharmaceutical consumption patterns by analysing domestic wastewater.

Also: Taxes to improve health don’t negatively affect the poor

“Our study shows that chemicals in wastewater reflect the social, demographic and economic properties of the respective populations and highlights the value of wastewater in studying the sociodemographic determinants of population health,” Choi says.

The study was published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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