60-Second Science

Recession: Just What the Doctor Ordered?

A study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal finds that recessions in wealthy countries can lead to better health habits, as people spend less on alcohol, tobacco and rich food. Adam Hinterthuer reports

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

It sounds paradoxical, but in wealthy countries, there's nothing like a recession to boost the population's health. According to a report in the September 1st Canadian Medical Association Journal, when our paychecks get lighter, we do more than tighten our purse strings—we also cinch our belts, kick bad habits and manage to lower our mortality rates.

Economic growth is usually associated with increased life spans, but the report says that’s only true for very poor countries. Researchers looked at data from dozens of 20th century international health studies and found that, once per-capita income passed $5,000, recessions actually helped health. During lean times, people in relatively wealthy countries drink and smoke less and stop overeating. They also go out less, which means fewer trips in the car. It all adds up to fewer deaths from things like lung cancer, liver disease, heart attacks and car crashes.

The researchers say that fewer hours in the office can also mean more time with family and friends. These close social interactions lead to less stress and better health. Of course, some people may find more family time to be like a lot of good medicine—hard to swallow.

—Adam Hinterthuer

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