Sick Economy, Healthy Body

Posted on January 4, 2010


Essay by Christopher J. Ruhm, Ph.D., Jefferson-Pilot Excellence Professor of Economics at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Ruing the recession? Your doctor isn’t. When times are tough economically, mortality actually decreases and physical health improves. That’s my conclusion after a decade of research on the relationship between health and the economy. Consider this: Since the current recession began in December 2007, unemployment has risen almost 5 percentage points. As a result, we expect acute health problems to fall by 15 percent, total mortality to drop by more than 2 percent (including an 11 percent decrease in traffic fatalities), and deaths from heart disease to decrease by 3 percent, saving some 15,000 lives a year.

Now, it’s no surprise that being relieved of your job cuts the daily stress of a commute and a screaming boss. But bad times spur everyone, not just the unemployed, to live healthier lives. We drink and smoke less and stay more active. During a recession, the number of people exercising rises by 6 percent, while obesity decreases by 1.6 percent (and severe obesity by 5.6 percent). Lean times, indeed.

The economy is already beginning to look up. But appreciating the connection between bad times and healthy bodies can show us just how important small changes can be to improving our health. Sometimes, we just need a nudge.

6 in 10 men say their personal financial situation will turn around in the coming year

Posted in: Health