BUSINESS

Why market crashes are a health hazard

COLIN CAMPBELL February 18 2008
BUSINESS

Why market crashes are a health hazard

COLIN CAMPBELL February 18 2008

Why market crashes are a health hazard

COLIN CAMPBELL

The U.S. economy is now all but in recession. Markets are slumping and consumer spending is tightening. Meanwhile, banks are hemorrhaging money from their bad bets on subprime mortgages. These are stressful times, and the risks aren’t just financial. This market could kill you.

A recent study from the University of Cambridge found that there is a connection between financial crises and the number of deaths that occur from heart disease. According to the study, which tracked data from the World Health Organization and the World Bank between i960 and 2002, a system-wide bank failure increases cardiac deaths by 6.4 per cent in high-income countries like Britain and Canada, and by as much as 26 per cent in low-income countries like India.

Previous studies have found links between heart disease deaths and stressful events like terrorist attacks, but the health effects of financial troubles have previously been largely ignored. The authors of the study were drawn to the subject while watching the troubles unfold last September at the U.K.-based bank, Northern Rock. “We noticed during the bank run how some people, particularly the elderly, became frantic in the queue trying to withdraw their money,” says lead author David Stuckler, a social epidemiologist at the University of Cambridge. Their research showed that a bank meltdown could cause anywhere from an additional 1,280 to 5,130 heart disease deaths in the U.K.—more than 10 times the number of British troops who have died in Iraq, says Stuckler.

Stuckler suggests it’s quite likely other large-scale financial disturbances, like the ongoing economic problems in the United States, could also be taking a toll. “The next steps would be for us to identify the full social cost of people losing their houses and the inability to get loans.”

In these troubled times, there’s now more reason than ever not to get too worked up over your finances. “Sometimes we lose sight that a financial crisis isn’t all about money,” says Stuckler, “it’s about peoples’ health.” M