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. 

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We are looking for original/unpublished scientific papers that shed new light on the topic “Overweight and Obesity in Asia and the Pacific.” All papers should be based on sound theoretical and/or empirical evidence.

The papers should be related to, though not limited to, one the following topics:

-Determinants of overweight and obesity across countries or within countries across different stratifications (age, gender, education, income, rural/urban, etc.) as well as across time.
-Country studies on the cost of illness, including the costs for health systems as well as the economic costs (including macroeconomic impact) of overweight and obesity.
-Case studies of experiences to reduce overweight and obesity implementing non-market (such as education) or market measures (such as sugar tax).

Martin Koppensteiner, Marco Manacorda, 18 April 2016

Stress and violence during the nine months in utero has been widely shown to have important effects on child development. To date this research has largely focused on extreme and relatively rare events. This column uses data from Brazil to explore how exposure to day-to-day violence can affect birth weight. The birth weight of newborns whose mothers are exposed to a homicide during their first trimester is significantly lower. This effect is smaller for mothers who live in more violent neighbourhoods, consistent with the interpretation that violence is more stressful when it is rare. 

Eva Arceo, Rema Hanna, Paulina Oliva, 16 April 2016

Pollution levels are orders of magnitude higher in lower-income countries than in the developed world. This means that studies of the health effects of pollution based on data from the latter will not necessarily be relevant to the former. This column reports on the effect of air pollution on infant mortality in Mexico City. Significant effects are found that are much larger than found in earlier work based on US data. These findings highlight the potential pitfalls of naively extrapolating findings from high-income to developing countries.

Eli Berman, Mitch Downey, Joe Felter, 15 February 2016

The bloody conflicts in Syria and Iraq have forced the issue of refugees onto the global agenda. However, among the neglected aspects of this discussion are how governance can be restored to conflict regions and the welfare effects that such actions, which are likely to be coercive, will have on local residents. This column examines the impact of a counter-insurgency programme in the Philippines on one development outcome in contested territories – malnutrition of young children. The programme saw a substantial long-term decrease in malnutrition in recaptured areas, but a rise in malnutrition in neighbouring areas. Such efforts may simply displace insurgents and their negative effects, rather than reducing them.

Michael Kremer, Christopher Snyder, Natalia Drozdoff, 29 January 2016

Many observers believe that pharmaceutical firms prefer to invest in drugs to treat diseases rather than vaccines. This column presents an economic rationale for why such a pattern may emerge for diseases like HIV/AIDS. The population risk of such diseases resembles a Zipf distribution, which makes the shape of the demand curve for a drug more conducive to revenue extraction than for a vaccine. Based on revenue calibrations using US data on HIV risk, the revenue from a drug is about four times greater.

Resul Cesur, Pınar Güneş, Erdal Tekin, Aydogan Ulker, 18 January 2016

The goal of universal health coverage has been pursued by countries in a number of ways, most notably through demand-side policies. In 2005, Turkey extended basic healthcare services to its entire population under a free-of-charge, centrally administered system. This column examines the impact of this supply-side programme on mortality and birth rates. Results show that the program was successful in lowering both mortality and birth rates across provinces, particularly for the most vulnerable populations. These findings provide compelling evidence in favour of providing accessible healthcare services to all citizens.

Janet Currie, 15 January 2016

Studies of the effects of economic fluctuations on health have come to wildly different conclusions. This may be because the effects are different for different groups. Using US data, this column looks at the health consequences of the Great Recession on mothers, a sub-population that has thus far been largely neglected in the literature. Increases in unemployment are found to have large negative health effects and to increase incidences of smoking and substance abuse among mothers. These effects appear to be concentrated on disadvantaged groups such as minorities, and point to short- and long-term consequences for their children.

Asha Abdel-Rahim, Dany Jaimovich, Aleksi Ylönen, 13 December 2015

One of the most important effects of armed conflicts is the forced displacement of large numbers of civilians. When conflicts end, many who have left their homes return, facing the challenge of rebuilding their lives in post-conflict areas. This column analyses the outcomes of returning households during a short-lived interwar period in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan. Returning households, particularly those that are female-headed, face worse economic conditions. But returnees fare better on various health indicators, likely related to changes in sanitary habits picked up during displacement.

Jan van Ours, Ali Palali, 16 October 2015

A major aim of cigarette taxes and tobacco control policies is to encourage smokers to quit. It is therefore important to understand the dynamics of quitting decisions in two-smoker couples. This column uses Dutch data to examine whether spousal peer effects exist for smoking cessation decisions. After controlling for the fact that couples are more likely to be similar to begin with, no evidence is found of one partner’s decision to quit affecting their spouse’s decision.

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