This World Health Day, we are reflecting on the work of our experts across the School of Economics and Centre for Evidence Based Public Services (CEPS), in helping to explore, analyse and create positive impact in the field of health.
By Vicky Jackson and Zac Richardson.
The World Health Organisation (WHO)’s theme for 2022 is ‘Our planet, our health’ and focuses on the interrelated challenges of health and the environment.
The School of Economics agenda includes health, education, welfare reform, urban planning and the environment with an emphasis on data-intensive research that delivers practical solutions to real-world problems. Our research and policy recommendations are intended to change everyday decisions we make, including working towards fairer, more equitable and sustainable societies through the improvement of public services.
How can economics help you to understand real-world issues and impact health?
Economics can provide the tools and evidence to help challenge the political, social and commercial decisions we continue to make that are driving the climate and health crisis. Economics can also shape the development of new more sustainable societies providing equitable health now and for future generations without breaching ecological limits.
Here at the School of Economics and CEPS, our researchers will continue to contribute to these critical conversations and we’re proud to offer a broad range of units across our undergraduate and postgraduate programmes which equip our students with the knowledge and skills to address these in the future.
Explore our research
Here are some examples of the recent research on health and the environment from the School of Economics and CEPS:
Our health research covers a range of topics, including the efficiency of healthcare delivery and individual and household decision-making in relation to health and healthcare.
Much of our research focuses on the co-dependence between health and economic outcomes, exploring how shocks to health and well-being affect outcomes such as educational attainment and employment, as well as vice versa.
Hans Sievertsen and co-authors assessed the impact of crowded wards using a study of nearly 800,000 births to look at maternity wards. They found midwives adjusted their care strategies for mothers to ease workload pressure during busy periods. Surprisingly, the shifts in treatment brought no obvious signs of harm to mother and child.
Patrick Gaule and co-author have examined what the research and development response to COVID-19 tells us about medical innovation and how lessons from the response could be used to scale up innovation to confront other deadly diseases as well as global challenges like climate change. While economists tend to see market size as the main driver for innovation, they argue a broader perspective that takes the greater good into account is needed. The response to the pandemic shows that when the incentives are right innovation can proceed at a very fast pace.
Monica Costa-Dias and co-authors assessed the role of different measurements of health in the estimation of the impact of health on employment. Accurately capturing this relationship has important implications for targeted policy to help reduce inequality. Amongst their conclusions they found that health is a more important driver of employment among those who left education earlier.
Jeremy McCauley studied the link between dementia and disadvantage in the USA and England. He and his co-authors found inequality in dementia prevalence according to income, wealth and education in both the USA and England. Overall, England has lower dementia prevalence and a less strong association with socioeconomic status. Most of the difference between the two countries is concentrated in the lowest socioeconomic group, which suggests disadvantage in the USA is a disproportionately high-risk factor for dementia.
Christine Valente’s main research interests lie in household decisions regarding fertility and human capital investments in developing countries. Christine’s research into contraceptive use found women in the South of Mozambique generally hold accurate or plausible beliefs about the effectiveness of contraception, but that they underestimate the risk of pregnancy in its absence. Addressing this underestimation, rather than focussing solely on free contraception is key to reducing unwanted pregnancies. Christine has been awarded a major grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to continue this research with a major study in Nigeria.
Patrick Arni and colleagues examined ‘biased health perceptions’, that is how people overestimate their health and how these misperceptions are strongly linked to unhealthy behaviours. The findings point to several potential public health interventions: those with biased health perceptions could be targeted for public health campaigns aimed at reducing risky health behaviours. Regular health check-ups and screenings, in addition to nudging people to seek regular feedback about their health, could also be effective.
Stephanie von Hinke also studies the economics of obesity, diet and nutrition, looking at both potential causes and consequences of the recent rise in body weight, as well as at evaluating ways to improve dietary choices. With Eleonora Fichera she has written on nutrition labelling, evaluating the impact of the introduction of front of packet nutritional labels on households’ shopping baskets in the UK. They found that the introduction of labelling did affect households’ food choices, and also led manufacturers to improve the healthiness of their labelled products. They recommended the widening of food labelling across more products and more food retailers.
Stephanie also investigates the importance of genetics, early life environments, parental investments, and government policy in explaining individuals’ health and well-being over their lifetimes. She currently holds an ERC Starting Grant, “Developmental Origins: exploring the Nature-Nurture Interplay,” which explores these questions.
Stephanie’s recent CEPS blog, highlighted this nature-nurture interplay as inextricably linked in a study finding that eldest siblings, typically blessed with extra attention from their parents, do especially well in education when they also possess certain genetic traits.
In a recent working paper, Stephanie von Hinke and Emil N Sørensen used information on exposure to the London smog of 1952 to investigate the impact of early-life pollution exposure on individuals’ human capital and health outcomes in older age. They found those exposed to the smog have substantially lower fluid intelligence, the ability to think and reason abstractly and solve problems, and worse respiratory health.
Our environmental research evaluates the effects of transport infrastructure investments, as well as using house price responses to transport and environmental policies as a method of valuing their perceived costs or benefits. Other research covers the pricing policies of airports and looks at urban development in multiple country settings.
Yanos Zylberberg and colleagues’ work examines pollution and spatial inequalities in relation to urban expansion. In a recent article, they explored historical pollution patterns and their impact on urban development. They found past pollution explains up to 20% of observed neighbourhood segregation and spatial inequalities in 2011, even though coal pollution stopped in the 1970s.
Yanos’s current Open Research Area funded project will advance our understanding of long-run urban growth through the digitisation and examination of historical maps spanning almost a century. It will explore the historical evolution of urban neighbourhoods from 1870 onwards and help us better understand how urban planning decisions made today affect the cities of tomorrow. A striking feature of cities around the World is the large differences in neighbourhood composition, which may reflect segregation fuelled by rural-urban migration and unequal exposure to environmental dis-amenities. Little is known about the patterns of city development during the structural transformation of economies, MAPHIS will seek to address this.
Yanos has also studied the impact of nuclear power plant development on local areas by examining the effect of the 2011 Fukushima disaster on property prices in England. They found that property prices fell, and deprivation rose in neighbourhoods near nuclear-power plants as richer residents left the area. The study has implications for policies aimed at reviving local areas and suggests that areas with highly mobile workers are less resilient in the face of local shocks.
Helen Simpson’s research covers urban economics and the effects of place-based policies. She currently holds a British Academy Fellowship for her project. This will investigate whether the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to have long-term effects on where people in some occupations live and work. These choices, as well as decisions by firms on what now constitutes the workplace, could have implications for UK cities and regional economic inequality. While the direct effects of the pandemic will likely amplify existing spatial inequality in the UK, any acceleration towards working, and spending, from home may also affect affluent cities and the extent to which they derive benefits from density. Helen’s project will map these trends and their impact on local economic performance, drawing out implications for the ‘levelling up’ agenda.
Explore further research on Health and the Environment here.
Discover all research from the School of Economics on our website.