Factors that contribute to urban–rural gradients in risk of schizophrenia: Comparing Danish and Western Australian registers

Oleguer Plana-Ripoll, Patsy Di Prinzio, John J. McGrath, Preben B. Mortensen, Vera A. Morgan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Introduction: An association between schizophrenia and urbanicity has long been observed, with studies in many countries, including several from Denmark, reporting that individuals born/raised in densely populated urban settings have an increased risk of developing schizophrenia compared to those born/raised in rural settings. However, these findings have not been replicated in all studies. In particular, a Western Australian study showed a gradient in the opposite direction which disappeared after adjustment for covariates. Given the different findings for Denmark and Western Australia, our aim was to investigate the relationship between schizophrenia and urbanicity in these two regions to determine which factors may be influencing the relationship. Methods: We used population-based cohorts of children born alive between 1980 and 2001 in Western Australia (N = 428,784) and Denmark (N = 1,357,874). Children were categorised according to the level of urbanicity of their mother’s residence at time of birth and followed-up through to 30 June 2015. Linkage to State-based registers provided information on schizophrenia diagnosis and a range of covariates. Rates of being diagnosed with schizophrenia for each category of urbanicity were estimated using Cox proportional hazards models adjusted for covariates. Results: During follow-up, 1618 (0.4%) children in Western Australia and 11,875 (0.9%) children in Denmark were diagnosed with schizophrenia. In Western Australia, those born in the most remote areas did not experience lower rates of schizophrenia than those born in the most urban areas (hazard ratio = 1.02 [95% confidence interval: 0.81, 1.29]), unlike their Danish counterparts (hazard ratio = 0.62 [95% confidence interval: 0.58, 0.66]). However, when the Western Australian cohort was restricted to children of non-Aboriginal Indigenous status, results were consistent with Danish findings (hazard ratio = 0.46 [95% confidence interval: 0.29, 0.72]). Discussion: Our study highlights the potential for disadvantaged subgroups to mask the contribution of urban-related risk factors to risk of schizophrenia and the importance of stratified analysis in such cases.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1157-1165
Number of pages9
JournalAustralian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry
Issue number12
Early online date13 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


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