Health and Wealth
By Thomas Kostigen
The healthier you are, the richer you'll get
In the immortal words of Dean Vernon Wormer in the film "Animal House:" "Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son." And it won't make you rich either.
A new study published in the British Medical Journal finds the healthier you are, the richer you will be. Researchers examined the link between health and wealth in rich countries and found that healthier people are more productive at work, earn more and spend more days in the work force because they don't take as much sick leave.
It may seem obvious but an investment in health produces big returns for individuals, their families and the economy as a whole.
It's been widely accepted by economists that better health increases economic growth in poor countries. But the health-wealth correlation hadn't been examined in rich countries. That was until Prof. Martin McKee of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and several of his colleagues took on the task in a study for the European Commission, the results of which were released this week.
They found some truly curious factors that lead to wealth, the first among them height. That's right, the taller you are the more likely you'll have more money than short people. Napoleon complex aside, height, it seems, has to do with childhood health.
"Some studies have examined measures such as height, which reflects health in childhood, and body mass index, which provides an indirect measure of health. All other things considered, taller people earn more than average whereas obese people tend to earn less, although the adverse consequences of obesity are greater for women than for men. However, these findings could reflect biases linked to the social acceptability of body images rather than a direct link to productivity," the study says.
Whether linked to social acceptability or not, the fact remains, at least according to this data, that being a tall guy provides a far greater advantage for earning more money than being a fat woman.
This type of information may be upsetting to some, especially if you are, say, short and fat and a woman. But overall it points to the importance of public health in society. Indeed, the rationale for the study was to showcase that point.
Five years ago, a major international study concluded that ill health was contributing to the low level of economic growth in poor countries. The landmark report showed that investment in some basic health interventions would lead to substantial economic growth. Simply put, its conclusion was that a sick population is an expensive population.
Just look at Africa, where scant immunization, lack of access to health care and drugs, and communicable diseases add up to lower life expectancies, a drained work force and disabled economic growth.
Conversely, a study of 10 industrialized countries from the beginning of the 20th Century through the mid-1990s found that better health increased the rate of economic growth by about 30%. This has to do with better dietary and health standards instilled on these populations, as well as better medical care.
Here's an even better example: "In an analysis of 26 rich countries during 1960 to 2000, reductions in cardiovascular mortality emerge as a robust predictor of subsequent economic growth. In one model, a 10% fall in cardiovascular mortality is associated with a 1% increase in per capita income. Although this may not seem large, it amounts to a substantial contribution over the long term," McKee's study says.
Many studies show that better health increases both the number of hours worked and the probability an individual will be employed. Poor health, on the other hand, increases the likelihood that someone will be out of work or retire early.
Ill health also extends its effects to family members. In general, men whose wives become ill reduce the amount they work whereas women work more if their husbands become ill, the study finds. In either scenario, economically the family suffers.
Meanwhile, healthy people can put their money to work in other ways, namely to increase their quality of life. They are, for instance, more apt to invest in their own education, which will increase their productivity, and save more in expectation of a longer life -- for example, for retirement -- increasing the funds available for investment in the economy. This helps not only their prosperity, but also society.
So don't be stupid: Get in shape to get rich.