The Price of Health

I’m starting to research a new story about the price tag of unhealthy habits –and how much it costs to fix them over the long term. I mean, you can live very cheaply if you buy nothing buy Ramen noodles and 29 cent mac n’ cheez to eat, but what price will you pay for malnutrition and so on, down the road? 

There is a fascinating connection between our pocketbooks and our health. We already know that people who have less money are less healthy, but dollars and cents can also serve as powerful incentive or disincentive for certain health behaviors, something that we often overlook in a rush to blame irresponsible individuals for their own health woes. This week, The Wall Street Journal reported on a strong link between childhood obesity, and the relative price of fruits and vegetables available in a given community. In Mobile, Alabama, which has the highest relative fruit and veggie prices for some reason, children gained 50% more excess weight between kindergarten and third grade than the national average.

The cost of a few unhealthy habits are well understood. This book examines the costs of smoking, heavy drinking, sedentary lifestyle, for instance. (This professor studies the subject, and I’ll try to get in touch with him in the next few days to find out more about this.) At this point, it seems to me that the costs of other unhealthy habits are less-well understood. I’d also like to look at the cost of not getting a good night’s sleep on a regular basis –which even worse if you get behind the wheel, motor accidents are not cheap. Maybe I’ll also look at the cost of not wearing a seat belt. And I’ll also look into the costs of not eating those fruits and veggies.

There’s obviously a connection between health, economics and politics–something I’ll think a lot about as I go. This paper gives a good overview of the issue, and this paper looks specifically at economics and obesity.The CDC makes info about poor health habits by state here. It’s also a political issue because of the rise of consumer-directed health care, which is a euphemism for plans that allow  employers shifting the burden of the cost of health insurance to employees, in much the same way that employers shifted from providing pensions to providing a defined contribution in a 401(k).

Individuals have been paying for more health care out of pocket in the past several decades –although no where near as much as private health insurance picks up, this will definitely change.( I’ve got a number of stories in the works about consumer directed health care, and cost-shifting, some background on how employers are thinking about this here. )


One thought on “The Price of Health

  1. I wonder if people with less money tend to eat more sugary greasy delicious junk food, because it is one of the few luxuries that they can afford. Giving you a sense of comfort and plenty for relatively little cost. I’ve heard people say that this is why a lot of poorer people smoke, but I don’t know if there’s any research behind that at all.

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