Researchers Try To Measure How The Great Recession Hurt Our Health

In this June, 2010, photo, Frank Wallace, who has been unemployed since May of 2009, is seen during a rally organized by the Philadelphia Unemployment Project. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

(Matt Rourke/AP)

When you pull the economic rug out from under people, what happens to their health? I’d never thought of the Great Recession as one big clinical trial, but that’s the perspective of Harvard researchers in “Failing Economy, Failing Health,” a sweeping new look at efforts to measure the health effects of the recession just out here.

Bottom line: We don’t really know what economic downturns do to health yet, but it doesn’t look good. The researchers featured in the piece are exploring potential links to “a growing list of physical and mental health ills, from heart attacks to obesity to depression.”

Losing a job appears to raise your risk of premature death and new health conditions. And here’s a particularly striking chunk about a 2010 poll:

The survey found that many people with heart disease, diabetes, or cancer believed that the downturn was hurting their health and that these negative impacts would only worsen over time. Among the facts unearthed by the poll: About a third of those with heart disease or diabetes and a fifth of those with cancer blame the economic downturn for forcing them to use up their savings to deal with medical bills, co-payments, and other expenses related to their illnesses. More broadly, according to the poll, some 4 in 10 Americans with heart disease or diabetes and 1 in 5 with cancer said the downturn had made it more stressful for them to manage their illnesses, a scenario that in itself may have exacerbated existing health problems.

Read the full piece for a broader exploration of how America’s heavily employer-based health insurance system could interact with a recession to raise stress and hurt health.

But let’s not end on a depressing note: There’s also been some interesting research on drops in death rates during downturns, possibly — according to one theory — because high unemployment sends more workers to nursing homes, which helps save elderly residents’ lives.

Study: Rise In Serious Child Abuse Linked To Mortgage Foreclosures

(Jeffery Turner/flickr)

Amidst all the troubling global and local economic news in recent months, this is particularly worrisome:

Researchers in Philadelphia report a strong link between rates of hospital admissions for serious child abuse and local mortgage foreclosures.

The new analysis from the PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia stands in contrast to other national statistics that show child abuse overall has declined. It also raises red flags about how well social service agencies and others are protecting vulnerable children, particularly in regions hard-hit by the recession.

The study, which reviewed hospital data over a 10-year-period, from 2000-2009, included 11,822 admissions for physical abuse of children under 6 years old.

From the news release:

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, found a strong relationship between the rate of child physical abuse and local mortgage foreclosures, which have been a hallmark of the recent recession. The CHOP findings, based on data from 38 children’s hospitals, contradict national child welfare data, which show a decline in child physical abuse over the same period…

According to the study, overall physical abuse increased by 0.79 percent, and traumatic brain injury increased by 3 percent per year between 2000 and 2009, while overall injury rates fell by 0.8 percent per year over the same time period. The researchers found that each 1 percent increase in 90-day mortgage delinquencies over a one-year period was associated with a 3 percent increase in hospital admissions due to child physical abuse and a 5 percent increase in admissions due to traumatic brain injury suspected to be child abuse. (My bold.)

Pediatrician Joanne Wood, the lead author of the study and an attending physician at CHOP said she and colleagues embarked on the study after hearing stories from other doctors around the country about increases in serious child abuse cases — including children with traumatic brain injuries, fractures and other injuries requiring hospitalization. Continue reading