Inequality’s Death Toll: A New Calculation |

Inequality’s Death Toll: A New Calculation |

Sam Pizzigati has a great post today. He starts by asking, “What has the potential to save more lives, the insurance reforms in the House health care bill or the higher taxes on the rich the bill imposes to pay for those reforms?”

The answer to that question seems obvious but the research studies he puts forward are astounding.  Inequality turns out to be a predictor of health as well as life expectancy in the views of epidemiologists:

The first explanation suggests “that more unequal societies have worse health simply because they have more poor people.” If poor people had more money, they would likely spend more on “things that benefit health” — better food, for instance, or warmer housing.

But the problems inequality creates, other epidemiologists contend, go far beyond poverty. Income gaps, these scientists argue, corrode social bonds and create a chronic stress that wears away at the health of all people who live in deeply unequal societies, not just the poor.

Citing research done by Japan and American teams looking into the health disparities between these two countries, Pizzigati also sites research published in the British Journal of Medicine which offers “quantitative evaluations on the association between income inequality and health.”

How powerful an impact does inequality have on health? In the world’s top 30 industrial nations, the Japanese and American research team concludes, “upwards of 1.5 million deaths” — nearly 10 percent of total mortality in the age 15-to-60 age group — could be prevented by reducing income inequality.

The impact of inequality on the United States turns out to be even more stunning, not surprisingly since no developed nation sports wider gaps in income and wealth. Of the deaths the new BMJ study ties to inequality, almost 900,000 came in the United States.

That total, University of Washington epidemiologist Stephen Bezruchka pointed out last week, amounts to a sizeable share of America’s annual death toll.

“We can say,” he calculates, “that one in four deaths can be attributed to our high rates of income inequality.”

Such numbers have, of course, enormous political implications. An unequal society, as last week’s BMJ editorial noted, amounts to a “broken society.” Political leaders, the editorial continued, ought now endeavor to repair that break — “by undoing the widening of inequalities that has taken place since the 1970s.”

Read the entire post.

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