Intended for healthcare professionals


Recessions are harmful to health

BMJ 2016; 354 doi: (Published 06 September 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;354:i4631
  1. Ben Barr, senior clinical lecturer in applied public health1,
  2. David Taylor-Robinson, senior clinical lecturer in public health2
  1. 1Department of Public Health and Policy, University of Liverpool, Liverpool L69 3GB, UK
  2. 2Department of Public Health and Policy, The Farr Institute@HeRC, Liverpool, UK
  1. Correspondence to: b.barr{at}

A government’s response can be even more damaging

The 2008 economic crisis led to rising unemployment, homelessness, and poverty—all important determinants of health. Government debt increased, as public money was used to prevent the collapse of the financial system, and many governments then cut public services to reduce this debt. But what has been the effect of all of this on health?

In a linked systematic review in The BMJ, Parmar and colleagues1 find that most studies investigating the 2008 recession in Europe show it was associated with adverse health outcomes. These findings were strongest for suicides and mental health problems. They find less evidence that the recession had a negative effect on self reported health, mortality, and health behaviours, and conclude that there was a high risk of bias in most of the studies reviewed.

Assessing the health effects of recessions is challenging. Firstly, the exposure of interest is poorly defined. The 2008 recession involved multiple economic processes, extending over at least 10 years, which could all negatively affect health.2 3 …

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