Connecting the Dots Between Personal Fiscal Health and Personal Health

Jane Sarasohn-Kahn

First posted 9/5/11 on Health Populi

Home foreclosures negatively influence health in several dimensions: they cause stress on the lives of the home’s residents, including children, driving mental and physical illness; they impact neighbors who worry that home values will fall in their community; and, they can motivate unhealthy behaviors, such as drinking and foregoing medical treatment such as seeing the doctor and filling needed prescriptions for drugs treating chronic conditions.

In Is the Foreclosure Crisis Making Us Sick? published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in August 2011, Janet Currie and Erdal Tekin find that the number of foreclosures in a community is associated with increases in medical visits for mental health (anxiety and suicide attempts), preventable conditions such as hypertension, and a long list of stress-related diseases.

Furthermore, more foreclosures in an area are most harmful on people age 20 to 64, and disproportionately impact African-Americans and Hispanics compared to whites.

The map shows the “heat index” for areas with the most home foreclosures: the redder, the higher the foreclosure rates in the state. Currie and Tekin focused on four of the hardest-hit foreclosure states: Arizona, California, Florida and New Jersey. They combined foreclosure data from 2005 to 2009 with data on ER visits and hospital discharges at the zip code level.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: Previous research has looked at the link between health and the house mortgage crisis, finding that unhealthful behaviors are often used to cope with stressful life events. Such negative coping behaviors include tobacco use, alcohol consumption, sleep dysregulation, and weight gain perhaps via decreased physical activity. For more on these impacts, see the 2009 essay in PLOS Medicine by Gary Bennett et. al. called, Will the Public’s Health Fall Victim to the Home Foreclosure Epidemic?

The health of a nation’s macroeconomy clearly impacts the health of the household’s microeconomy – not just of a parent but on children’s health, as well, according to Currie and Tekin.

This study connects the dots between personal finances and health, which is a connection that people make for themselves. The first Edelman Health Engagement Barometer identified that people define their health and wellness across several dimensions: physical health, mental health, appearance, and financial health.

This study raises many points for both health and economic policy which are inextricably linked. First is the rationale for universal health insurance coverage provides a health safety net for all health citizens, can help stem the negative impacts of unemployment in a community and the longer term downstream health costs that increase when conditions aren’t prevented and managed. Second is the importance of COBRA and unemployment insurance payments, the latter of which often can’t cover the former (see this post describing that financial disequilibrium).

Finally, the relationship between economic development and population health has been long documented. As the U.S. economy continues to lag — and the “recovery-less recovery” continues to continue — the public’s health will be in jeopardy, particularly in minority communities.

This scenario also reminds us of the connections between people that Christakis talks about…Health is Contagious, and vice versa.

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