Health and wealth are intimately related. This week’s (October 24/31 2007) Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) is devoted to poverty and human development. Another important publication this week highlights the relationship between income and health: EBRI has just published its the 2007 Health Confidence Survey, the Institute’s tenth annual report on how Americans perceive the US health system. Together, these two documents shine a light on the health/wealth relationship. This relationship holds true whether we’re talking about rural India, Zambia, Beijing, east LA or Ames, Iowa.

In JAMA, take a look at Dr. Steven Woolf’s commentary, Future Health Consequences of Current Decline in US Household Income. Dr. Woolf wants to alert health professionals about three income-related realities in the US that will impact the US health system and individuals’ health status: increasing poverty rates, decreasing household income, and widening income equality (that is, the gap between rich and poor). Dr. Woolf notes that, “even modest reductions in income among more affluent persons can also influence health.” He goes on: “It would be easy to succumb to the misconception that this threat endangers only a small, highly disadvantaged segment of the US population.” Ultimately, the decline in income is likely to “intensify demands on the health care system,” Woolf predicts. In particular, Woolf notes that obesity is more prevalent among those with lower incomes, so the ripple effects on the health system will be very significant in the future. Woolf concludes that, instead of expanding health system capacity and government intervening in job growth, investing in education may be the most important strategy for addressing poverty’s impact on health in America.

EBRI’s report presents data on health cost increases negatively impacting Americans’ household finances. Specifically, higher health costs have caused Americans to decrease contributions to retirement investments and other savings plans. We know millions of Americans have been “dissaving” since 2000; see my blog post earlier this week on Plastic’s Growing Role in Health Care. The best way to save for retirement is to put away consistently, year after year.

“Never underestimate the power of compounding and saving consistently,” Constanza Low, Vice President of Knickerbocker Advisors, advises. “The impact of diverting money from your savings is huge in the long run. Save just $5,000 less per year and 20 years later you will have shortchanged your own retirement by over $250,000 (assuming an average annual investment return of 9%). Save $10,000 less a year and you will have shortchanged yourself by over half a million dollars!”

Health Populi’s Hot Points: Health security is about every American, not ‘just’ 12.3% of Americans who live below the poverty level. Dissaving will do a disservice to health care for our children and ourselves in retirement. We must boldly invest now for the future. This isn’t socialist planning. This is survival time.

The theme of health and poverty is featured in over 200 science and health journals this week.
Thanks to Larry Stillman of the Applied Statistics Laboratory in Ann Arbor for the heads-up.