Why economic downturns could boost your health

 
Jessica Morris
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Economic downturns leave people will less money to spend on alcohol and cigarettes (Source: Getty) (Source: Getty)

One silver lining of a sickly economy is that it can make people healthier.

It's hardly surprising that the devastating effects of an economic crisis take their toll on people's mental health. But high unemployment and low wages also leaves people with less money to spend, squeezing sales of booze and cigarettes, and improving their physical health.

Before the turn of the 21st century, it was generally accepted that heightened morbidity, alcoholism and admissions to mental health hospitals meant overall levels of health worsened amid an economic downturn.

Since then research has shown unhealthy habits such as drinking and smoking decrease during economic downturns, while health-enhancing activities such as exercise and social interactions rise. And the latest research suggests that this actually become exaggerated during the worst economic messes.

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"What is new is evidence that severe national recessions occurring at the beginning of the 1980s and the end of the first decade of the 21st century had a protective effect on total mortality that was around twice as large as that predicted by the higher unemployment rates occuring during such periods alone," according to the study by the National Bureau Economic Research.

But researchers cautioned that no two economic crises are the same, and while the implosion of Iceland's banking system in 2008 boosted people's health, the breakup of the Soviet Union had the opposite effect.

"Also, these determinations should be tempered by the understanding that economic crises may contain idiosyncratic elements that affect mortality," it said.

"For instance, the breakup of the Soviet Union had enormous negative effects on Russian life expectancy, in part, because declines in alcohol prices led to increases in alcohol-related problems. Conversely, the Icelandic banking collapse in 2008 resulted in a currency devaluations that raised alcohol and cigarette prices, leading to reductions in drinking and smoking."

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