There is growing concern about the long-term health effects of atmospheric pollution. Conditions were much worse a century ago in Western countries, when coal-fired industrialisation reached its zenith, than they are now in countries where pollution presents the greatest challenges today. This column highlights the effect of polluted air on adult heights using a sample of British army soldiers in WWI. Pollution accounts for a difference of almost an inch between the average adult heights in least and most polluted localities.
Timothy Hatton, 03 April 2017
Nicholas W. Papageorge, Gwyn C. Pauley, Mardge Cohen, Tracey E. Wilson, Barton H. Hamilton, Robert Pollak, 01 April 2017
A link has been established between domestic violence and poor labour market outcomes. This column uses US data to explore the relationship between health and both domestic violence and drug use. HIV+ women who benefitted from the introduction of a medical innovation that delayed the onset of immune system decline experienced less domestic violence and reduced their drug use. Ignoring the link between medical innovation, health, and outcomes such as these is likely to lead to underinvestment in research.
Pierre Dubois, Rachel Griffith, Martin O'Connell, 31 March 2017
There have been calls for restrictions on junk food advertising to tackle rising rates of obesity around the world. This column examines the likely effect of a ban on potato crisp advertising. Results suggest that the total quantity of crisps sold would fall by around 15% in the presence of a ban, or by 10% if firms respond with price cuts. The welfare benefits from this would depend on whether current advertising is persuasive, informative or complementary.
Martina Björkman Nyqvist, Lucia Corno, Damien de Walque, Jakob Svensson, 07 January 2017
Traditional HIV/AIDS education campaigns have not been completely effective in curtailing new infections. One potential reason behind this is that most of the infections occur among individuals who are willing to take risks when it comes to sexual behaviour, and campaigns have failed to specifically target these people. This column describes a new HIV intervention trialled in Lesotho that used a lottery to target such individuals and incentivise safer practices. HIV incidence was reduced by more than a fifth in treatment groups over the trial period. These results, combined with practical and cost advantages, suggest that such interventions could prove invaluable in the fight against HIV.
Mevlude Akbulut-Yuksel, Adriana Kugler, 17 October 2016
Upward social mobility is widely sought but often elusive in highly mobile societies like the US. While previous work has focused on intergenerational transmission of income levels and social prosperity among natives and immigrants, this column studies the intergenerational transmission of health. There is substantial persistence in health status for both natives and immigrants. However, as immigrant families remain in the US for more generations, their children’s health tends to resemble more the health of native children and less the health of their mothers.
Isamu Yamamoto, 14 October 2016
There is ample empirical evidence showing that poor mental health is increasing, but the impact of this on long-run productivity and its implications for the labour market are not well researched. This column outlines two ways in which labour market research can contribute to the study of the impact on mental health of working conditions. It also identifies several channels related to working conditions that affect mental health, and argues that deteriorating mental health adversely affects corporate performance in the long run.
George Wehby, Dhaval Dave, Robert Kaestner, 26 September 2016
Despite ample research on the effects of minimum wage increases on employment, there has been little consensus on the effects of such increases on workers’ broader welfare, and in particular on their health and that of their families. This column analyses comprehensive data from the US on the effects of minimum wage increases on the health of children born to low-income workers. It finds that the increases have a significant positive impact on birth weights. This has important policy implications, with infant health acting as a reliable indicator of future health.
Katherine Ho, Robin Lee, 16 September 2016
The US health insurance market is becoming less competitive due to mergers and withdrawal of services from certain states. This column examines how this affects consumers through insurance premiums and hospital reimbursement rates. Using employer-sponsored insurance data from California, it finds that the relationship between insurer competition and health care spending depends on institutional and market structure. If premiums can be constrained through effective regulation or negotiation, then reduced competition might lead to lower costs. Absent such constraints, consumers will likely be harmed.
, 07 September 2016
Does giving people a health test lead to a change in their behaviour? In this video, Zlata Tanović discusses the challenges of collecting medical data. The video was recorded during a UNU-WIDER conference on 'Human capital and growth' held in June 2016.
Dhaval Dave, Nadia Doytch, Inas Kelly, 06 August 2016
Food consumption has increased worldwide, concurrent with rising obesity rates. This column draws on five decades of data from 209 countries to identify trends in overall caloric intake as well as the types of foods that provide the calories. The data reveal differences between socioeconomic groups and regions that are likely to have important implications for population health. Preliminary analysis of the economic correlates suggests that GDP per capita, labour force participation and healthcare measures explain much of the rise in caloric intake.
Silda Nikaj, Joshua J. Miller, John Tauras, 28 July 2016
Progress in adopting smoking bans across the US has been slow, despite a majority of Americans supporting a ban in public places. This column uses aggregate and establishment-level data from Texas to examine the economic effects of smoking bans on bars and restaurants. The results suggest that bars and restaurants are not adversely affected by the adoption of a ban.
Alberto Galasso, Hong Luo, 24 July 2016
‘Defensive medicine’ refers to doctors performing excessive tests and procedures because of concerns about potential malpractice liability. Advocates for reform of the liability system typically argue that this raises healthcare costs with few expected benefits for patients. This column explores how tort reform laws designed to curb defensive medicine affect innovation in medical devices. US states that introduce such laws see a reduction in medical device patenting, suggesting that high liabilities actually encourage innovation.
Pascaline Dupas, 18 July 2016
What prevents families from investing in health products that can save lives? In this video, Pascaline Dupas shows that a full subsidy of health products increases the number of people benefitting from health products. This video was recorded during a UNU-WIDER conference on “Human capital and growth” held in June 2016.
Tom Chang, Tal Gross, Joshua Graff Zivin, Matthew Neidell, 15 July 2016
The health effects of pollution in terms of hospitalisations, mortality and morbidity are well researched, but not so much is known about the less severe effects of pollution on workers’ health. This column uses evidence from China to analyse the impact of pollution on productivity, finding that high levels of pollution reduce the productivity even of indoor workers. Reducing pollution is not just welfare-improving for society, it is also of financial benefit to the economy.
Rachel Griffith, Melanie Lührmann, 11 July 2016
The rise in obesity has largely been attributed to an increase in calorie consumption. This column investigates this claim by examining the evolving consumption and lifestyles of English households between 1980 and 2013. While there has been an increase in calories from restaurants, fast food, soft drinks, and confectionery, there has been an overall decrease in total calories purchased. This decline in calories can be partially rationalised with weight gain by the decline in the strenuousness of work and daily life, and increasingly sedentary lifestyles.
Janet Currie, Hannes Schwandt, 02 July 2016
Inequalities in mortality rates are a good indicator of economic wellbeing, but most of the existing literature does little to distinguish between developments in infants and adults. This column uses extensive US data to analyse mortality trends across all age groups. It finds that the health of the next generation in the poorest areas of the US has improved significantly and the race gap has declined significantly. Underlying explanations include declines in the prevalence of smoking and improved nutrition, and a major cause is social policies that target the most disadvantaged.
Matteo Galizzi, George Loewenstein, 14 June 2016
Although not a nudge, the ‘soda tax’ in the UK can nonetheless be justified in part on behavioural grounds. This column analyses the potential effectiveness of the soda tax in reducing consumption. As a behavioural instrument, the tax does not go far enough, and is in fact regressive. A comprehensive junk food tax should be introduced instead, accompanied by nudges, ‘healthy’ subsidies, and regulation of ‘super-sizing’ practices.
Joan Costa-i-Font, Mireia Jofre-Bonet, Julian Le Grand, 02 June 2016
Obesity, particularly in children, is a major health concern in many developed economies, where it presents a costly risk to health services. Any policy response must take into account the inter-generational transmission of overweightness and obesity to children. This column uses evidence from the Health Survey of England to assess the extent to which nature and nurture factors play a role in the overweightness of children. It finds that any effective policy action must tackle parental overweightness to lower rates of overweightness in children.
Daniel Gallardo Albarrán, 22 May 2016
Industrialisation has been the key to modern economic growth and rapidly rising incomes, but some question whether it is always a blessing when taking a broader view of human wellbeing. While the recent rise of China and other Asian economies has transformed the lives of millions, the experience of Britain in the 19th century shows a more mixed picture of development. This column presents a unified framework for measuring British wellbeing over the period 1780-1850, which shows that better health and higher income levels alternated in improving overall wellbeing, until declining health in the 1840s led to stagnating wellbeing.
James Banks, Carl Emmerson, Gemma Tetlow, 07 May 2016
Many countries are increasing the age at which people can start claiming state-funded pensions. One objection often raised is that such policies are unfair because some will be too unhealthy to remain in paid work. This column compares employment rates in England of older people today to those of earlier generations, and also to those of younger people today. These comparisons suggest that a significant minority of older people appear to be unable to work on the grounds of health alone.