Correlation Between Health and Economic Stress
A researcher at Virginia Commonwealth University says economic stress and death go hand in hand, and he urged policymakers to consider the economy, jobs and education as key elements to health reform. Charles Fishburne talked with Dr. Stephen Woolf , Director of the VCU Center on Human Needs and lead author of the study.
Money and mortality go together, according to Dr. Stephen Wolf, and he has the research to back it up.
Wolf: It certainly is a major factor. Having resources enables people to live in healthier areas, to go to better schools, to have access to healthcare, health insurance coverage, and so forth.
But even he was surprised at what he sees as a direct correlation between means and mortality.
Wolf: It’s very dramatic. We looked at the years of 1990 through 2006 in Virginia, and basically did a thought experiment of what would happen if everyone in the state had the mortality rate of the five wealthiest counties in the state. And what we found was that if that had occurred, 25% of all deaths in the state would not have happened.
His study corroborates research done by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released earlier this week that places Richmond City near the bottom of the list in Virginia as a healthy place to live.
Wolf: In our study we found that something like 40-50 percent of deaths in cities like Richmond would be averted if the mortality rates of the affluent areas applied.
Dr. Wolf says there is a message for policy makers in the research.
Wolf: As a doctor, the striking thing about this is that there is nothing we do in the medical setting, in doctor’s offices or hospitals, that can achieve a 25% reduction in mortality. So, these social and economic policies are essentially health policies.
And, he says, even in a recession, especially in a recession, policy makers need to consider jobs and education a critical part of health reform.
Wolf: The message of this study is that those economic policies that we typically think of as a separate issue from healthcare reform, are actually very closely related to health. So, doing something about economic development and improving living conditions for people even though it’s thought of in politics as a separate issue from healthcare, could have a dramatic impact on healthcare costs and disease burden.
And he has some thoughts about where public money might be best be spent to ensure a better health outcome for all of us.
Wolf: Well, it’s hard to know for sure. We have to do more research to get an accurate answer to this. But all the betting money’s on education. That, if we were to do a better job of educating our youth, we would see enormous returns on investment. Many health experts feel that the most important thing that could be done to reduce disease burden in this country is to deal with high school dropout rates. And if we were to do a better job of educating our young people they, in turn, would have better jobs, better productivity, higher incomes and all the benefits that come with that.
Dr. Stephen Wolf is director of the VCU Center on Human Needs and the lead author of this study that would be published in the April issue of the American Journal of Public Health, and is now available online.
I’m Charles Fishburne, WCVE News.