Nov. 9, 2006 - The best economic investment a nation can make is to invest in the health of its citizens, a European Commission report concludes.
Most studies of the link between health and wealth look at poor countries, note World Health Organization economist Marc Suhrcke and colleagues. Yet rich nations owe much of their wealth to previous health gains.
"For example, about 30% of economic growth in the United Kingdom between 1790 and 1980 has been estimated to be attributed to better health and dietary intake," Suhrcke and colleagues write in the journal BMJ. "Better health meant that British workers increased their ability to convert energy into productive work by over 50% during this period."
Suhrcke and colleagues did the study for the European Commission. A summary of the report appears in the Nov. 11 issue of BMJ.
Some studies suggest that once national wealth reaches a certain level, further health improvement doesn't help. But this, Suhrcke and colleagues say, is a flawed analysis.
Such studies focus on gains in life expectancy. But measures such as lowering the number of deaths fromalso have major economic impact. And increases in retirement age -- seen when life expectancy rises -- offset many of the costs of an society.
Moreover, some of the payoffs from health investments aren't captured in simplistic economic analyses.
"The true purpose of economic activity is to maximize social welfare and not simply to produce more goods and services," Suhrcke and colleagues suggest. "Since better health is an important component of social welfare, its value ought to be included in measures of economic progress."