Linking Liver Disease to Socioeconomic Events

Numerous alcohol bottles on displayI use Twitter to keep abreast of news. But, I follow-up by searching for source information. Yesterday the Twitter feed piqued my interest with a trending item relating increases of liver disease in the under 34 population with The Great Recession. Naturally, I am interested whenever I see society impacted by economic events. Also, I look for the reverse; societal events which impact economics. The interchange is often life changing.

Increased Liver Disease Since the 2008 Recession

Therefore, I searched for the source of the study and found the publication in the BMJ. The study originated at the University of Michigan. Assistant Professors  Tapper and Parikh produced the work. Please click here for the link explaining the scientific methodology. Some of you may have read articles in either the New York Times or Washington Post summarizing the study. I encourage you to read the actual study found on the above link.

The study covers the time period from 1999 to 2016. A statistically significant correlation between The Great Recession and increased deaths in the 25 to 34 population is discussed. Since my oldest offspring fit this demographic, there is a greater interest on my part. The data analysis and results were of particular note. Table 2 in the study is a good indicator that the onset of economic trouble has a direct correlation with an increase in liver disease.

Validation is important to me, so I searched for other studies. There are quite a few. The Great Recession spurred many scientific studies. Most attributed the decline in health to the decline in prosperity. However, I did come across a scholarly article that posited the opposite reaction.

Health Effects of Economic Crisis

Christopher J. Ruhm produced the working paper Health Effects of Economic Crises. His detailed analysis can be accessed by clicking here. (Note the Economic Bureau of Economic Research does not have a secure website, but the link is to a PDF.) On the surface the two studies appear to conflict. Yet a closer evaluation indicates some correlation between the two.

Ruhm’s study of the interchange between macroeconomic downturns and morbidity rates focuses on cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Everything else is lumped into a category of other disease. (He also includes analysis of death rates due to accidents, suicides and homicides. Although the two latter conditions could be attributed to mental illness.)

Backgrounds play a key role in the approaches. Tapper and Parikh are medical doctors specializing in the field of gastroenterology. Ruhm’s background is in economics. He holds a doctorate with his CV citing Health Economics, Labor Economics and Public Economics as specialties.

My belief after reading both studies is there is an interaction between economics, macroeconomics in particular, and societal changes. Declines in extra spending money leads to a decline in consumption of goods harmful to health. Examples would be alcohol, tobacco and sugar.


From what I understand of the two studies, a correlation can be made. Ruhm’s analysis led me to believe the morbidity rates declined due to a money squeeze. Personal observation recalls individuals in my hamlet switching to bikes and walking during the Great Recession. This increase in physical activity combined with a decrease in consumption of deleterious goods such as alcohol, tobacco and sugars would lead to healthier living.

By contrast, the study by Tapper and Parikh seems to me to focus on the aftereffects of the Great Recession. The country has enjoyed a decade of prosperity. Yet it is easy to infer the lingering effects on the age group of 25-34 year olds. Some would include the Millennials in this cohort. Individuals entering the workforce during the Great Recession faced adversity at the time. Many are still struggling to catch-up.

Perhaps this internal struggle coupled with more money currently available for consumer spending is the cause for the findings in the study. Higher alcohol as well as obesity lead to liver failure. Thus a call for an increase in sin tax with regards to both alcohol and sugar by proponents of this particular study.

Health Challenge From Econogal

Taxes are unpopular and only one approach. My suggestions differ. First, as I have written before, maintaining physical health is important. In my opinion, all adults (everyone over 18) should have blood work done once a year along as part of an annual check-up. Second, we should practice moderation. I first discuss this in the book review of The Case Against Sugar.

Alcohol consumption should be limited. I looked up the suggested limits for low risk use. They were more than generous in my opinion. My understanding is those who don’t drink at all are at an advantage with regards to memory processes and only at a slight disadvantage for cardiovascular health.

Thus, I have a challenge for my readers. Starting August 1, 2018, reduce or eliminate alcohol consumption until Halloween. Monetary costs most likely prohibit blood work before and after for concrete results. So, I am asking my readers to use observation. Make weekly notes on energy levels. Note activities. Journal entries will keep you on track. Then share your results via comment. I will let responses dictate space on the blog.

If you are already a non-drinker, reduce your consumption of sugar, tobacco, caffeine or some other unhealthy product. Or those that abstain from alcohol and other sinfully delicious goodies can add a positive. This addition of a healthy alternative would be good for the drinkers as well.

Are you up for the challenge?

5 thoughts on “Linking Liver Disease to Socioeconomic Events

    1. Moe-
      That is a great idea to have a partner for the challenge. Thanks for accepting. I look forward to your observations.

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