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September 21, 1979

Do economic slumps increase illness?

JAMA. 1979;242(12):1241-1243. doi:10.1001/jama.1979.03300120005002

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The striking decrease in mortality from cardiovascular diseases that has occurred in Western countries during the last ten years was unpredicted and has no adequate explanation.

But the question continues to stir many minds. An Australian economist now reports that the decline in mortality from ischémie heart disease (IHD) in that country may be accounted for by common-sense factors not usually considered in medical discussions: improved economic conditions and decreased unemployment.

Although two critiques in the same issue of the journal (American Journal of Public Health, August 1979) question some of the author's methods, his conclusions agree with those of a slowly growing body of data relating economic conditions to morbidity and mortality in many European and North American countries.

Alfred Bunn, DSR, BCom, MEc, of the School of Economic and Financial Studies in New South Wales, carried out the analysis of Australian coronary mortality data. He found that changes in age- and sex-specific IHD mortality were highly correlated with unemployment in three time periods—the years preceding, during, and following the Great Depression, which began about 1930.