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Analysis And Comment Health economics

Investment in health could be good for Europe's economies

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 09 November 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:1017
  1. Marc Suhrcke, economist1,
  2. Martin McKee, professor of European public health2,
  3. Regina Sauto Arce, research fellow3,
  4. Svetla Tsolova, research fellow3,
  5. Jørgen Mortensen, associate senior research fellow3
  1. 1European Office for Investment for Health and Development, World Health Organization, Venice, Italy
  2. 2London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, WC1E 7HT
  3. 3Centre for European Policy Studies, Brussels, Belgium
  1. Correspondence to: M McKee martin.mckee{at}
  • Accepted 14 August 2006

A sick population is an expensive population. But a new European report shows the benefits of improved public health are likely to extend beyond reduced healthcare costs

Five years ago, the Commission on Macroeconomics and Health concluded that ill health was contributing to the low level of economic growth in poor countries.1 The landmark report showed that investment in some basic health interventions would lead to substantial economic growth.1 However, the commission did not look at rich countries, where the situation is quite different. Production in poor countries—for example, from agriculture and mining—is much more obviously affected by physical wellbeing. In addition, the measures to improve health in poor countries, such as immunisation and access to essential drugs, are less complex than those needed to manage the large burden of non-communicable disease in rich countries. Understanding the role of health as a driver of economic growth in Europe is important, given the stated commitment of Europe's governments in March 2000 to make Europe the most competitive and dynamic knowledge driven economy by 2010.

In this article we summarise the findings of a study that we did for the European Commission examining the link between health and wealth in rich countries. The full report has been published elsewhere,2 and a summary of the methods is available on

How might health affect the economy?

Healthier individuals might affect the economy in four ways:3

  • They might be more productive at work and so earn higher incomes

  • They may spend more time in the labour force, as less healthy people take sickness absence or retire early

  • They may invest more in their own education, which will increase their productivity

  • They may save more in expectation of a longer life—for example, for retirement—increasing the funds available for investment in the economy.

It is not straightforward to …

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