GOOD

The Surprising Health Benefits of a Bad Economy

Being laid off might be better for you than you think.

When you consider what you could do to improve your physical health, you probably think about activities you’d make a New Year’s resolution about: Go to the gym more, ride your bike to work, don’t finish the whole pint of Chunky Monkey in one sitting. But there’s something else you probably never imagined could be good for your health in any way—a recession.


Yep, that period around 2008 or so—which you may have spent fretting about finding a job or losing one, or maybe moving back in with your parents—was actually good for the health of the population at large, according to a report by University of Virginia professor Christopher Ruhm that was released in October by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The research uncovered extensive evidence that “health-enhancing activities such as exercise and social interactions increase” during bad economic times, while harmful behaviors decrease, writes Ruhm, a professor of public policy and economics. The analysis examines prior research on the subject and uses state- and county-level data from the United States between 1976 and 2013.

An earlier report by Ruhm implied that a single percentage point increase in a state's unemployment rate resulted in a .54 percent decrease in loss of life—in effect, “saving” 13,000 lives. That may be because, as economist Ryan D. Edwards wrote in a 2011 review of American time use, “When unemployment is high, consumers report spending more time sleeping, preparing food and eating or drinking, socializing and relaxing, and using the telephone, while they spend less time working and traveling for work.”

A 2005 European Journal of Population study examining the link between recessions and life expectancy in Spain during a 17-year period of high unemployment cites several previous studies indicating that when the economy’s in the dumps, people tend to have less work stress, sleep more, and benefit from better immunity, along with a higher chance of beating infectious diseases. They also enjoy a lower risk of injury, partly because there’s less traffic when there are fewer people driving to and from work.

Looking at the flip side (the unhealthy side effects of work), we see that the Mamas & the Papas have a reason to be cryin’ whenever Monday comes: Various studies have shown that much-lamented day to be the weekly peak for cardiac incidents. That may be related to obesity, a health concern whose most significant predictor is long working hours, according to a 2009 study in the journal Industrial Health.

In some cases, the key factor determining whether or not people make healthy choices may be the price tag. When the financial crisis hit Iceland in 2008, longitudinal survey data indicated that Icelanders spent less money on unhealthy (and costly) purchases, from indoor tanning sessions to cigarettes and candy. (Though the reverse may be true, as well: Those Icelanders spent less on healthy but pricey goods like fruits and vegetables.)

So if it still seems counterintuitive to view recessions as a good thing, the research does back up some relevant detrimental effects. Depression has been shown to rise with unemployment levels—especially for sectors of the population stricken by poverty before the recession hit. And, as even Ruhm acknowledges, downturns can have a negative impact on individuals and their families, though health may improve population-wide.

Ultimately, being laid off could potentially make you healthier by giving you more time to sleep, exercise, and socialize. But you might want to consider a more direct way to get those benefits. (Maybe those New Year’s resolutions aren’t such a bad idea after all.)

Articles
Screenshot via Sweden.se/Twitter (left) Wikimedia Commons (right)

Greta Thunberg has been dubbed the "Joan of Arc of climate change" for good reason. The 16-year-old activist embodies the courage and conviction of the unlikely underdog heroine, as well as the seemingly innate ability to lead a movement.

Thunberg has dedicated her young life to waking up the world to the climate crisis we face and cutting the crap that gets in the way of fixing it. Her speeches are a unique blend of calm rationality and no-holds-barred bluntness. She speaks truth to power, dispassionately and unflinchingly, and it is glorious.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
Ottawa Humane Society / Flickr

The Trump Administration won't be remembered for being kind to animals.

In 2018, it launched a new effort to reinstate cruel hunting practices in Alaska that had been outlawed under Obama. Hunters will be able to shoot hibernating bear cubs, murder wolf and coyote cubs while in their dens, and use dogs to hunt black bears.

Efforts to end animal cruelty by the USDA have been curtailed as well. In 2016, under the Obama Administration, the USDA issued 4,944 animal welfare citations, in two years the numbers dropped to just 1,716.

Keep Reading Show less
Science

The disappearance of 40-year-old mortgage broker William Earl Moldt remained a mystery for 22 years because the technology used to find him hadn't been developed yet.

Moldt was reported missing on November 8, 1997. He had left a nightclub around 11 p.m. where he had been drinking. He wasn't known as a heavy drinker and witnesses at the bar said he didn't seem intoxicated when he left.

Keep Reading Show less
Communities
via Real Time with Bill Maher / YouTube and The Late Late Show with James Corden / YouTube

A controversial editorial on America's obesity epidemic and healthcare by comedian Bill Maher on his HBO show "Real Time" inspired a thoughtful, and funny, response by James Cordon. It also made for a great debate about healthcare that Americans are avoiding.

At the end of the September 6th episode of "Real Time, " Maher turned to the camera for his usual editorial and discussed how obesity is a huge part of the healthcare debate that no one is having.

"At Next Thursday's debate, one of the candidates has to say, 'The problem with our healthcare system is Americans eat shit and too much of it.' All the candidates will mention their health plans but no one will bring up the key factor: the citizens don't lift a finger to help," Maher said sternly.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
via Gage Skidmore

The common stereotypes about liberals and conservatives are that liberals are bleeding hearts and conservatives are cold-hearted.

It makes sense, conservatives want limited government and to cut social programs that help the more vulnerable members of society. Whereas liberals don't mind paying a few more dollars in taxes to help the unfortunate.

A recent study out of Belgium scientifically supports the notion that people who scored lower on emotional ability tests tend to have right-wing and racist views.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics