Category Archives: Social determinants of health

Industry ties to medical expert panels

Medical concept -  stethoscope over the dollar billsControversy has surrounded the latest publication of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of mental health disorders, in part because of concerns that the guideline pathologizes many behaviors that some people might consider normal, theoretically increasing the opportunity to prescribe pharmaceuticals for non-pathological behavior. But beyond the field of psychiatry, there are increasing concerns that “medicalization” may be doing more harm than good for patients (especially where tests and therapies have marginal benefit but potentially great risks), and may be influenced by profit motives and desires to define disease so expansively as to intrude on normal living to a stifling degree. A recent comprehensive study of medical panels’ decisions about expanding disease definitions shed some light on this debate, and revealed some concerning findings…

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The Disabled States of America: regional disparities in healthy life expectancy

m6228a1f3The CDC recently released their latest data on healthy life expectancy across the US. The data reveal stark inequalities not only in overall death rates, but moreover in how extremely disabled various parts of the country are as compared to healthier areas.


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Bending the child obesity curve

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has released a fascinating glimpse into data suggesting that childhood obesity may be declining in several US cities and counties.

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The data beneath The Farm Bill

imagesNumerous commentaries have debated aspects of the $100 billion dollar U.S. Farm Bill—the legislation that funds farm subsidies, food stamps, crop insurance policies, and potentially some international food aid as well. But what’s the impact of these various programs? We took a look at the data on Farm Bill payments and effects over the last several years…

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The impact of food price spikes

2013-05-24 06.53.06 amAs we discussed in a previous post, several causes led to a massive spike in food prices internationally in 2008 and again a few years later. The average world price of rice, for example, rose by 217% between 2006 and 2008. Classical theories have suggested that we shouldn’t worry about these spikes: that the high prices will lead to more production (attracting farmers to produce more, which will drive prices back down), people’s wages will adjust to costs of living, and people will be able to substitute for expensive items with other foods. But a new report tracking how the most-affected people have responded to the food spikes reveals that classical theories may be a bit out of touch…

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Introducing The Body Economic

Body economic UK jacketPoliticians have talked endlessly about deficits and finance during our ongoing economic crisis. But we’ve talked far less about achieving another major goal that is just as important, if not more so, than promoting stable financial markets: protecting our health and well-being during hard times and into the future. What policies are most effective in preserving our health during economic recessions—and can we afford them?

That question, it turns out, can be answered through data and careful research on recessions both past and present. My colleague David Stuckler and I are today releasing our peer-reviewed book, entitled The Body Economic, in which we boil down over a century of data from across the globe to answer the question of what policies actually improve both our economies and our public health during and after economic recessions.

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400,000 “stolen years”: analyses of gun violence in the US

Our data-visualization colleagues at Periscopic have released a new report on US gun statistics.


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New IOM report on US versus…everyone else

2013-01-09 02.01.45 pmThe Institute of Medicine has released a major new report today on the reasons why the United States seems to have poorer health, despite its greater wealth, as compared to other industrialized countries.

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Do optimists live longer?

In medicine, we focus a lot on preventing, diagnosing and treating diseases. But we also know, at an epidemiological level, that good health doesn’t start in the medical clinic. The major predictors of good health outcomes are economic, as well as social; they have to do with whether people have social support and live in safe neighborhoods, whether they have safety net systems to maintain good nutrition in times of distress, or whether they revert to drugs and alcohol in bad times. These factors seem to predict health outcomes better than access to good medical care or medications. In this week’s post, we talk about a new set of initiatives spearheaded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that attempts to capture these ideas into a new model for healthcare delivery.

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Alcohol use around the globe: new data trends

Along with salt, sugar and tobacco, alcohol stands out as a key “risky commodity” affecting global rates of noncommunicable disease. In this post, we look at new epidemiological surveillance and industry data on alcohol sales and consumption from around the world. We look into what populations are most affected by alcohol abuse, and what policy responses seem to have been successful in reducing morbidity and mortality from risky drinking.

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