Saturday, April 20, 2013

Could Wealth Decrease Longevity!

A friend on mine posted a link to this article on facebook.  

Here is an excerpt:

When Cuba's benefactor, the Soviet Union, closed up shop in the early 1990s, it sent the Caribbean nation into an economic tailspin from which it would not recover for over half a decade.
The biggest impact came from the loss of cheap petroleum from Russia. Gasoline quickly became unobtainable by ordinary citizens in Cuba, and mechanized agriculture and food distribution systems all but collapsed. The island's woes were compounded by the Helms-Burton Act of 1996, which intensified the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, preventing pharmaceuticals, manufactured goods, and food imports from entering the country. During this so-called "special period" (from 1991 to 1995), Cuba teetered on the brink of famine. Cubans survived drinking sugared water, and eating anything they could get their hands on, including domestic pets and the animals in the Havana Zoo.
Cubans became virtual vegans overnight, as meat and dairy products all but vanished from the marketplace.
The economic meltdown should logically have been a public health disaster. But a new study conducted jointly by university researchers in Spain, Cuba, and the U.S. and published in the latest issue of BMJ says that the health of Cubans actually improved dramatically during the years of austerity. These surprising findings are based on nationwide statistics from the Cuban Ministry of Public Health, together with surveys conducted with about 6,000 participants in the city of Cienfuegos, on the southern coast of Cuba, between 1991 and 2011. The data showed that, during the period of the economic crisis, deaths from cardiovascular disease and adult-onset type 2 diabetes fell by a third and a half, respectively. Strokes declined more modestly, and overall mortality rates went down.

I am very skeptical of any statistic out of Cuba but this has very interesting implications. We all know that for some peopel increased wealth can lead to earlier death but if this article is correct it would mean that an increase in wealth above some subsistence level has a negative effect on enough people's longevity that a fall in wealth brought up the overall life expectancy in Cuba.  

BTW: I would bet that most, if not all of the gain, is due to reduced accidents, reduced smoking an drinking. 

Here is another excerpt:

During the special period, expensive habits like smoking and most likely also alcohol consumption were reduced, albeit briefly. 

Even in the USA recessions tend to accompanied by a decline in death rates mostly due to less driving, fewer on the job accidents, less drinking and smoking.  

Also here is a related Article Why early retirement may not be good for your health.  

Dubner: Well look, it may sound terrible but Kai, I'm happy to say, there's a hidden side, a little silver lining here to consider. So the economist Josef Zweimuller, at the University of Zurich, recently did a study that looked at two fairly identical groups of blue-collar workers in Austria. One group that got early retirement up to three and a half years earlier than the other, and what Zweimuller found is that early retirement -- as much as we may crave -- actually has a considerable downside.
Josef Zweimuller: I mean actually what we find in our study is that among blue-collar workers, we see that workers who retire earlier have higher mortality rates. And these effects are pretty large.
Ryssdal: 'Higher mortality rates' -- they die, the people who took the early retirement?
Dubner: Correct. The study showed that for every extra year of early retirement, you lose about two months of life expectancy. And I should say, this is not the first study to show there's a fairly strong relationship between early retirement and earlier death.
Ryssdal: What we do we know about the causes of these deaths? Is it heart attack, what is it?
Dubner: A lot of them cardiovascular, likely due to things like more smoking and drinking, worse diet, not enough exercise. But there's also evidence to show it goes beyond the physical, that working longer is tied to better mental health as well.
Here's Mo Wang, he's a psychologist at the University of Florida who studies retirement.
Mo Wang: Working actually gives you a way to structure life and that's very important. Usually it's interesting you see people travel right after they retire, but then after like one or two years, people just sit at home watching TV.
Here if more...
Josef Zweimuller: I mean actually what we find in our study is that among blue-collar workers, we see that workers who retire earlier have higher mortality rates. And these effects are pretty large.

Combined these should give us some real food for though. 

Of course a longer but less enjoyable life may not be better than a shorter more enjoyable life but there are those in the health movement (Michael Bloomberg for example) for whom the implications should be thought through as to what they imply for our welfare programs like food stamps and social security.