How economic recessions affect public health

September 1st, 2009 - 5:31 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, September 1 (ANI): A new study suggests that mortality rates during economic recessions in developed countries decline rather than increase.

Publihsed in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), the study also suggests that in poor countries where GDP per capita is less than 5,000 dollars, economic growth appears to improve health by increasing access to food, clean water, shelter, and basic health services.

“In terms of business cycles, mortality is procyclical, meaning it goes up with economic expansions and down with contractions, and not countercyclical (the opposite), as expected,” writes Dr. Stephen Bezruchka, from the School of Public Health, University of Washington in Seattle, USA.

The author points out that studies on wealthy countries show that greater national wealth does not equate with better health for its citizens.

“The United States, with the highest GNP per capita in the world, has a lower life expectancy than nearly all the other rich countries and a few poor ones, despite spending half of the world’s health care bill,” he states.

It also has the highest poverty levels of any wealthy country, with large health disparities and poor health outcomes.

Countries like Sweden, which have strong social safety nets and strong labour protection, see smaller changes in the health of its citizens during recessions.

Bezruchka says that studies have shown that unemployment can be bad for people’s health, yet smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and overeating decline during recessions with beneficial impacts on health.

Perhaps even more importantly, adds Bezruchka, when unemployment rates soar, people have more time for friends, family, and children.

That, according to him, results in lower mortality.

“If we recognize that economic growth may not be good for our health, then we can consider means of reining in the excess wealth… and of redistributing national resources through social spending for the common good,” concludes Dr. Bezruchka. (ANI)

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