The hidden health costs of the Great Recession

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What is the total price tag for the Great Recession? Almost five years after the official end of the worst downturn since the Great Depression, there is still no clear answer. What we do know is this: A full accounting must reflect its impact on the nation’s health costs.

So writes Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, professor of health communication at Harvard School of Public Health, in an op-ed published in the Pacific Standard on May 9, 2014. While it is still early days for Great Recession research, Viswanath argues that the resulting health costs are likely to be both substantial and enduring, as described at length in a cover story in the latest issue of Harvard Public Health magazine. The foreclosure crisis, high unemployment, and rising inequality—all of these have potentially vast implications for population health.

In response, Viswanath calls for development of a statistically sound health index to supplement the economic data on which we all-too-often tend to focus exclusively. “We need to watch this metric as closely as we watch the unemployment rate and the GDP. Until we take this into account, the full cost of this recession—and those to come—will remain a mystery,” Viswanath concludes.

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