Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

Big government — or good neighbors — can improve people’s health

Big government — or good neighbors — can improve people’s health.

Study explores connection between ideology, social capital and health

Lincoln, Neb., March 20, 2014 – The nation’s left-leaning citizens might be pleased by the findings of a new University of Nebraska study that finds those who live in liberal states tend to be healthier.

But conservatives could also take satisfaction in the same study’s conclusion that strong communities also foster better health.

“Some people might like the argument that liberal government automatically leads to healthier people, because it supports their worldview,” said Mitchel Herian, a faculty fellow with the university’s Public Policy Center and lead researcher on the new study. “But in the absence of a liberal government, you also see better levels of health if you have a strong community.”

The study, published in the March issue of the journal Social Science and Medicine, combined data from the 2010 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System to measure health, a 2009 Gallup Healthways Survey to measure levels of social trust and a 2010 index that rates liberalism in state government. In all, the study involved data collected from more than 450,000 people from across the country.

It found that states with high levels of liberalism and those with high levels of social trust have higher levels of health and well-being.

The two factors – liberalism and social trust – are not interchangeable. People who live in a California city might have liberal political beliefs but mistrust their neighbors, Herian said, while those who live in a small Texas town might mistrust government but count on their neighbors.

To measure a state’s social capital, Herian and his colleagues used data from a survey that asked “If you lost a wallet or purse that contained $200 and it was found by a neighbor, do you think it would be returned with the money in it or not?”

To assess states’ political profiles, the study used an index that scores each of the 50 states on their relative liberalism vs. conservatism. The index is based upon factors such as interest group ratings of congressional members, voting records and election results in congressional races. It is designed not only to assess partisanship, but the extent to which politicians favor liberal social policy.

Health and well-being were measured with questions from the behavior risk survey that asked respondents to rate their health and to report how frequently poor physical or mental health prevents them from carrying out daily activities. The researchers also took smoking habits and body mass index into consideration.

Herian authored the study with psychologists Louis Tay of Purdue University, Ed Diener of the University of Illinois and UNL graduate student Joseph A. Hamm.

“Liberals argue for government programs and conservatives argue for individual responsibility,” Diener said. “When government programs are in place, people tend to be healthier. But when government programs are weaker, a person with lots of close ties and social capital can still be healthy. Their wife can get them to exercise, their friends can help them not drink too much, and their support for each other may directly affect their health. Loneliness is bad for health.”

The researchers said the study has implications for health policy at the state and local levels. Herian, who has studied how social trust influences public policy, said he expects to do more research on how to measure social trust.

Tay said the study shows two pathways to improving people’s health: Strong communities can provide good health outcomes, but government social programs also have a strong connection to good health and could be necessary to serve more fragmented and isolated communities.

Diener said the research demonstrates that good health is not just a matter of individuals “doing the right thing” like quitting smoking, exercising more and losing excess weight.

“Social factors have an influence, too,” he said. “It might be government programs, or it might be ‘social capital’ – having supportive others around us – that can influence our health beyond just each of us doing the right things.”


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March 28, 2014 Posted by | Public Health | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The U.S. Health Disadvantage – Part 2: Possible Causes and Solutions

by Kirsten Hartil 

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care.”

At least according to Article 25 of The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, so why does the United States, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, have some of the poorest health outcomes compared to other high income countries?

My previous blog, adapted from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) report U.S. Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health, described how the U.S. compares in causes of mortality and years of life lost with other high income and OECD countries. Here, as outlined in the report, I explore some of the social determinants of health that may explain this. Social determinants of health, as opposed to biological determinants (biology and genetics), describe the…

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July 14, 2013 Posted by | Consumer Health, Consumer Safety, Health Statistics, Public Health, statistics | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Does the President’s Oath of Office Have to do with Public Health?

President Obama will take his oath of office today on two bibles, one being that of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Professor Cornell West of Union Theological Seminary in this clip is bothered that the President does not truly honor King’s commitments to justice. These crimes against humanity include Jim Crow, carpet bombing in Vietnam which killed civilians (including children), and poverty.

Dr. King’s reference crimes against humanity are still with us today

–Jim Crow lives on in many areas, including the high percentage of blacks in prisons in numbers disproportionate to the population.

Note the high percentage of incarcerated black males who are from 20 to 49 years old.
While in prison, they are unable to provide for their families and be good role models for their children. Their communities are poorer for not having them in many ways.
“The dismal fact of mass incarceration inflicts widespread and enduring damage by undermining the fair allocation of public resources and political representation, by depriving the children of inmates of their parents’ economic and emotional participation, and, ultimately, by concealing African American disadvantage from public view. (From the book review for Invisible Men)

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The carpet bombing mentality lives on in drone warfare. Some believe that the number of drone civilian deaths have decreased during President Obama’s administration. The use of drone warfare still inflicts psychological terror among civilians who hear them constantly on their surveillance missions.
“The moral damage to the victims must be considered because violence begets more violence and leaves psychic wounds nearly impossible to heal”. And “the costs of drone warfare as an economic choice over alleviating suffering caused by domestic economic challenges have to be weighed. The financial cost of protecting American combatants while killing enemy combatants (and civilians), though steep, are measureable. Measuring the effect of losing those funds for the welfare of the American people suffering most from our economic woes is harder. [From Texas Faith: The morality of drone warfare]
Poverty rates have not declined appreciably since 1960. There is wide disagreement on the causes and even the definition of poverty. However the gap between the rich and poor is ever widening.
The intentional and unintentional treatment of folks based on their skin color, income, socioeconomic power all exacerbate public health issues. If people are incarcerated unjustly their community suffers. The unjustly incarcerated are not able to contribute to their community in economic and social terms. They are not there to support their families. Drone warfare scars people not only physically but psychologically. And money spent on warfare is not spent on programs and infrastructure for the betterment of all. Poverty disables people in so many ways.  People in poverty are less able to share their God given talents with us all.

January 21, 2013 Posted by | Public Health | , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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