Wealthier is not necessarily healthier: study

Tue Jul 6, 2010 7:01pm EDT
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By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) - The suggestion by one of President Barack Obama's key economic advisers that wealthier nations are also healthier is not necessarily true, according to a team of British social scientists.

The research team studied data from 22 countries over almost 50 years to test the principle that stimulating economic growth automatically improves levels of public health, particularly in the developing world.

Their findings suggest the idea is over-simplistic, they said, and in some cases the health of a population has worsened even as the country's national income was rising.

This was because issues of poverty and inequality were ignored by policymakers more worried about economic growth, a strategy that may ultimately cost lives, the researchers said.

"The 'wealthier is healthier' argument is the idea that if you have economic growth, you are acquiring the resources that will help society's health to improve as a whole," said Larry King, of Cambridge University's sociology department, whose study was published in the journal Social Science and Medicine.

"Our study found that wealth is not enough. If policymakers want to improve health, they need to look more closely at the impact that they are having on individual living standards."

King said the link between economic growth and improving public health was first made in an influential paper in 1996 co-authored by Larry Summers, now director of the National Economic Council in the United States and a leading presidential adviser.

Since then it has been a "guiding formula" for both health ministries and many of the global financial bodies that support international development.   Continued...