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Six projects building evidence about the vital contribution that people’s health makes to society and the economy

30 April 2018

About 5 mins to read

Social and economic factors have a complex, dynamic and multi-directional relationship with people’s health. While much is known about their impact on people’s health, relatively little is understood about the impact of individuals’ health on society and the economy.

That’s why our new Social and Economic Value of Health research programme aims to build an evidence base in this area. We’ve selected six projects that span a range of age groups and different social and economic outcomes. They will look at areas such as whether health status changes across the life course, whether similar experiences of health result in different outcomes across generations and how variations in people’s mental and physical health shape their social and economic outcomes.

The programme will move the focus from ill health as a burden, towards viewing people’s health as an asset that has the potential to deliver wider social and economic returns on investment.

Find out more about the projects that have been awarded funding through the programme:

1. The social and economic consequences of health status: causal inference methods and longitudinal, intergenerational data

Led by the University of Bristol, this project will assess how health status causally affects social and economic outcomes. It will explore a range of conditions including obesity, cardiovascular disease, asthma and depression.

The project will estimate the economic return on maintaining good health. It will use information from UK Biobank and two cohort studies, providing a large sample size and genetic data, and a broad range of detailed health, social and economic measures. It will also include analysis of whether parents’ health affects the social and economic outcomes of children.

The project aims to identify periods in people’s lives where policy change is likely to have the greatest effects.

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2. Life course impacts of health status on social and economic outcomes and transitions

How do variations in people’s mental and physical health help to shape their social and economic outcomes? We already know about how the social determinants of health can be influenced by social and economic policies. What is less well understood is the reverse relationship: the impact that a person’s health status has on socio-economic factors, both for themselves and people they live with.

This project led by Loughborough University aims to develop an understanding of how variations in people’s health cause different social and economic outcomes. Social determinants of health analysed will include indicators of employment, financial situation, social connection and personal relationships. 

The results will help define how our health status affects our socio-economic circumstances.

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3. The causal impact of health status on labour market outcomes: consequences for individuals and households

Work is a key route to financial security and psycho-social wellbeing, and is generally good for people’s health. But there can be adverse effects stemming from long hours, stress and job insecurity.  

Deterioration in health is often the catalyst for people leaving the labour market, and people with poor health have a much lower employment rate than the rest of the population. This impacts not only on individuals and households, but employer performance, productivity levels and economic growth. With long-term conditions increasing among the working age population, strategies are needed to maintain health status and participation.

This research project led by the University of Sheffield will aim to shed new light on the causal relationships between health and work. 

Establishing the role of physical and mental health on employment outcomes, the project will inform policy being developed to address issues such as the ageing population, extended working lives, increased prevalence of chronic disease and the need to reduce the burden of social security provision.

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4. The economic and social value of health from childhood to later life

We have little evidence on the relationship between health and social outcomes from one generation to the next, especially in light of major changes such as increased prevalence of depression and obesity, wealth inequalities, reduction in smoking, changing gender roles and the UK’s changing demographic.

This project, led by University College London’s Centre for Longitudinal Studies, will increase understanding of the impact that a person’s health has on their economic and social outcomes over their lifetime and across generations. 

The research team will examine a range of outcomes including: educational development; employment status and social class; and socio-emotional outcomes such as childhood behaviour, quality of life, social support and partnership status. 

The project’s aim is to inform policy-making and future population-based interventions to promote healthy development and healthy ageing.

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5. The causal effects of alcohol and mental health problems on employment outcomes: Harnessing UK Biobank and linked administrative data

Mental health issues such as depression and alcohol-related problems are a major health burden in the UK. In contrast to many physical health problems, mental health conditions particularly affect people of working age, which in turn impacts on the UK economy.

Mental health disorders are now the most common reason for receiving sickness and disability benefits, and are linked to worklessness and adverse social outcomes. However, the causal relationship between them remains unclear. 

This project led by the University of Glasgow aims to provide an understanding of the potential societal benefits of maintaining and improving mental health. Understanding the complex relationship and factors that impact individuals’ ability to sustain employment when facing mental health issues will enable government, employers and individuals better to plan policies and interventions, and to help people to self-manage conditions.

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6. Does childhood obesity hinder human capital development through the erosion of health status?

This project led by Imperial College Business School will establish evidence of the short- and long-term consequences of childhood obesity, in particular what the causal effect is on an individual’s ‘human capital’: their educational attainment, employment participation, income level and social participation.

Childhood obesity is a major risk factor to long term health outcomes in the UK and across the world.  However, there are challenges in trying to tackle the problem. The health impacts of childhood obesity take a long time to materialise and available interventions often only demonstrate a small effect. 

This project aims to generate more detailed knowledge of the pathways and mechanisms through which the social and economic impacts of childhood obesity are generated, which will give policy-makers the means to intervene more effectively in mitigating those impacts.

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