Welcome to the new health math in America:

> education = > life
> income = > life
less income = less life
less income = more chronic illness

Got that?

A new report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), Overcoming Obstacles to Health, codifies the relationship between socioeconomics and health. Health disparities go way beyond simple race and ethnicity categories — the combination of income, education, wealth, and neighborhood conditions could be more useful in explaining differences in Americans’ health status.

Based on per capita GDP, Americans should live nearly three years longer than we do. Instead, we have shorter lives than people in countries with much lower per capita incomes, RWJF calculates.

Lower incomes directly correlate to, for example, higher rates of diabetes and coronary heart disease. In fact, the rate of heart disease as a cause of death in the U.S. is nearly 50 percent greater among poor adults than among the richest Americans.
RWJF is convening a task force to be led by Alice Rivlin (once a director of the Office of Management and Budget and a personal hero of mine) and Mark McClellan (ex-FDA Commissioner and CMS Administrator and currently with the Brookings Institution with Dr. Rivlin). Coined the Commission to Build a Healthier America, the group will go into the field to hear real-world stories about what works to reduce health disparities based on socioeconomic factors. It’s an impressive group that itself crosses boundaries: bipartisan, for-profit and not-for-profit, academicians and industry representatives.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: Thank you, RWJF, for this important report and for allocating resources to this new Commission. As Dr. McClellan says, “For reasons that don’t appear to have much to do with health care, there is a big gap between how healthy we are and how healthy we could be.”

The Commission will identify on-the-ground, working strategies that mitigate the gap between the healthy and unhealthy.

In a recent RWJF poll, 92% of Americans felt that improving the quality of education and levels achieved would improve health and quality of life. The long-term impacts of addressing health differences would have a direct and positive impact on our economy, as much as $1 trillion according to RWJF. Investing in health through education and other socioeconomic factors is a no-brainer investment. I can imagine a big “boo-yah” from Jim Cramer and two thumbs-up from Warren Buffett on this ROI.