Health behaviour effects accumulate slowly

Health economists have extensively studied how health behaviour such as alcohol consumption, physical activity, or overweight affect later success in the labour market.

“In brief, it can be said that overweight weakens your future success in the labour market. It reduces salary level and weakens the employment situation. However, many people don’t think about the indirect costs of overweight when making decisions related to physical activity and diet. Overweight develops gradually and its effects on success in the world of work also accumulate slowly,” explains Professor Petri Böckerman.

Research in the field utilises health surveys, which provide information on people’s health in their childhood and adolescence. This information is linked to Statistics Finland’s unique register data on success in the labour market. From a larger perspective, this type of research is connected to questions of economics, for example, how risky behaviour such as smoking or overweight may possibly affect negatively later success in the labour market. In a way, the study is about the indirect benefits and costs of health behaviour and investing in health

Health economics also looks at how factors such as family background or education can affect individuals’ health or health behaviour.

Jutta Viinikainen ja Petri Böckerman

“We are currently working on a study that is investigating if the educational level of individuals affects their leisure-time physical activity. The preliminary results suggest that education seems to increase the level of physical activity,” says Professor (acting) Jutta Viinikainen.

Health care costs about to get out of hand

Public social and health care is undergoing change, and the Finnish social and health services reform has been a hot topic in both public and informal discussions for years.

Over the past 20 to 30 years, health care costs have increased significantly in all industrial countries. An increasing share of the gross domestic product of all industrial countries is invested in the health care sector. This highlights how important it is to apply the methods of economics to analyse the health care sector, health behaviour and related factors.

“We must also remember that the resources of the public sector are always limited. As a result, resources spent in health care systems are taken from other societal operations. This means that society must decide concretely how much it wants to invest in education, health care and other services,” Böckerman says.

The aim of health economics research is to understand individual-level decision-making and the financial consequences of the decisions as well as to support the planning and evaluation of financial policies. Research in the field has been divided into two trends: the examination of health behaviour and the analysis of health care systems. The research in health economics at JYU has strongly focused on the former, that is, determining the effects of individual health behaviour. A central question in the analysis of health care systems is, for example, how a health care system should be organised.

Research in health economics is strongly multidisciplinary and closely linked with the University of Jyväskylä’s core field of physical activity, health and wellbeing, including cooperation with the representatives of medicine, psychology, genetics and sport sciences.

“Economics at the University of Jyväskylä has a long history in labour market research, and the current research in health economics combines the two streams in an innovative way,” say professors Böckerman and Viinikainen.

”Health economics thus unites the two most important things for employees: work and health,” Böckerman summarises.

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