A study published in the latest edition of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, reported in yesterdays (8th October) Times  has analysed the GDP per capita of 19 countries in Europe, North America and Australasia between 1950 and 2008. Over the long term, death rates fell but there were peaks and troughs linked to the economic cycles of relative boom and bust.

When economies were expanding, death rates increased for both middle aged and older people, but they fell when economies were heading for recession.

On average, for every percentage point increase in GDP, death rates rose by 0.36% among 70-74 year old’s, and by 0.38% among 40-44 year old’s.

Previously, similar findings have been reported in younger people. These were attributed to increases in traffic accidents, work-related stress and people living more decadent lifestyles. It was expected that this trend would be non existent in older people or the other way round.

Economic austerity is conventionally assumed to have a negative impact on health. This study seems to suggest otherwise.

Editorial comment. An interesting study but difficult to read too much into it. Death rates reflect a lifetime’s experience, not just the ambient one. Paul Walker