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  • Photograph by Harvard School of Public Health

Failing Economy, Failing Health

“It’s quite stunning we haven’t been hearing more about this...“We talk about poverty and inequality resulting from the recession, but we do not take the next step. We do not extend that logic to the effects on health.”

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. 

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A 2009 report by University of Albany sociologist Kate W. Strully in the journal Demography found that losing a job when a business closes increased the odds of fair or poor health by 54 percent among workers with no preexisting health conditions, and increased by 83 percent the odds of new health conditions likely triggered by job loss—stress-related conditions such as stroke, hypertension, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, and emotional and psychiatric problems.

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For public health practitioners, acting on lessons from the Great Recession will require both energy and ingenuity. “There has to be an activist agenda,” says Viswanath, with academics translating the evidence in ways that inform public discourse—and, in turn, national programs and policies. “We are fixated on the upstream factors—the recession and its direct economic costs. But the downstream factors—the terrible impact on health—are already far along.”

Read the rest of this great article here: Amy Gutman, "Failing Economy, Failing Health: The Great Recession's toll on mind and body," Harvard Public Health, Spring 2014. 

Connect upstream.