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Effects of economic crises on population health outcomes in Latin America, 1981-2010: An ecological study

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Callum Williams, Barnabas James Gilbert, Thomas Zeltner, Johnathan Watkins, Rifat Atun, Mahiben Maruthappu

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere007546
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number1
Accepted/In press7 Dec 2015
Published6 Jan 2016


  • BMJ Open-2016-Williams-

    BMJ_Open_2016_Williams_.pdf, 756 KB, application/pdf

    Uploaded date:01 Apr 2016

    Version:Final published version

    Licence:CC BY-NC

King's Authors


Objectives: The relative health effects of changes in unemployment, inflation and gross domestic product (GDP) per capita on population health have not been assessed. We aimed to determine the effect of changes in these economic measures on mortality metrics across Latin America. Design: Ecological study. Setting: Latin America (21 countries), 1981-2010. Outcome measures: Uses multivariate regression analysis to assess the effects of changes in unemployment, inflation and GDP per capita on 5 mortality indicators across 21 countries in Latin America, 1981-2010. Country-specific differences in healthcare infrastructure, population structure and population size were controlled for. Results: Between 1981 and 2010, a 1% rise in unemployment was associated with statistically significant deteriorations (p≤0.05) in 5 population health outcomes, with largest deteriorations in 1-5 years of age and male adult mortality rates (1.14 and 0.53 rises per 1000 deaths respectively). A 1% rise in inflation rate was associated with significant deteriorations (p≤0.05) in 4 population health outcomes, with the largest deterioration in male adult mortality rate (0.0033 rise per 1000 deaths). Lag analysis showed that 5 years after rises in unemployment and inflation, significant deteriorations (p≤0.05) occurred in 3 and 5 mortality metrics, respectively. A 1% rise in GDP per capita was associated with no significant deteriorations in population health outcomes either in the short or long term. β coefficient comparisons indicated that the effect of unemployment increases was substantially greater than that of changes in GDP per capita or inflation. Conclusions: Rises in unemployment and inflation are associated with long-lasting deteriorations in several population health outcomes. Unemployment exerted much larger effects on health than inflation. In contrast, changes in GDP per capita had almost no association with the explored health outcomes. Contrary to neoclassical development economics, policymakers should prioritise amelioration of unemployment if population health outcomes are to be optimised.

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