Recession health costs will be 'substantial and enduring,' researcher says

Stephen Greene worked a street corner hoping to land a job as a laborer or carpenter on June 3, 2011, in Pompano Beach, Fla.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

When the American economy tanks, so does public health. That's according to researchers gathering studies and data five years after the end of the recession.

"If the issue is largely invisible in the nation's news outlets, it is drawing the attention of a growing number of public health researchers, some of whom are beginning to identify possible links between the Great Recession — the worst economic downturn in the U.S. since the Great Depression of the 1930s — and a growing list of physical and mental health ills, from heart attacks to obesity to depression," according to the Harvard School of Public Health report. "In addition to cataloging the health harms resulting directly from stress, many studies suggest that economic pressures may also give rise to a host of unhealthy behaviors — such as bingeing on sugary or high-fat comfort foods, smoking, and drinking to escape worries — as well as to widening economic disparities, which exact a documented toll on people's health."

Kasisomayajula Viswanath, professor of health communication at Harvard School of Public Health, said it's still too early to see the full effect of the Great Recession on health and health-related costs, but the incoming research shows it is "substantial and enduring."

He wrote about it for Pacific Standard:

Researchers David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu, authors of The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills, have written that the United States saw an estimated 4,750 "excess" suicides between 2007 and 2010, with suicide rates significantly greater in states with the greatest job losses. More broadly, a new article in Harvard Public Health offers a depressing portrayal of the many harmful health impacts linked to involuntary job loss, foreclosures, and widening wealth inequality, another hallmark of the post-Great Recession world — all important areas of ongoing research. For example, a 2009 report by University of Albany sociologist Kate W. Strully found that losing a job when a business closes increased the odds of developing health conditions such as stroke, hypertension, and heart disease, by a whopping 83 percent.

Viswanath and Basu join The Daily Circuit to discuss the economy's impact on health.

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