Health and the Economy

Insights from the Surgeon General

a crowd of people cross a busy urban street

I’ve written before about the intellectual and personal thrill I get working with the NLM Board of Regents. Their expertise, their unique perspectives, and their passion make our two-day meetings fly by, and their ideas drive the Library forward.

At this week’s Board meeting, some powerful insights came from the new US Surgeon General, Vice Admiral Jerome Adams, MD, MPH.

As the Surgeon General, Dr. Adams is one of nine ex officio members on the Board of Regents, but he also enjoys a special privilege—namely, presenting to the Board at every meeting. That long-standing tradition helps ensure our work aligns with the Surgeon General’s priorities to improve the country’s health.

Over the years, those priorities have focused on such issues as reducing health disparities, preventing skin cancer, and going tobacco-free. But Dr. Adams brings a fresh agenda: the connection between health and the economy.

I can’t do justice to his vision and his passion, so let’s jump into his recent post on the HealthAffairs blog, which lays out his thinking and calls for private and public institutions to come together “to maximize quality, health-nurturing employment opportunities for all US citizens who are able to work.”

Improving Individual and Community Health Through Better Employment Opportunities
by Jerome M. Adams | May 8, 2018

Employment and job creation build prosperity and carry important health benefits, both for individuals and entire communities. There is a large and growing body of literature demonstrating a positive correlation between employment and individual and community health.

Employment can be defined as a contractual relationship between the worker and an employer for financial or other reward that is sustained over a period of time. It can be used as a socially acceptable means of earning a living and may involve a set of technical and social tasks performed within certain physical and social contexts. In the US, employment serves as the main source of income of the country’s residents.

Across multiple studies, higher income was consistently associated with better health, including a reduced overall risk of mortality and reduced rates of such chronic diseases as heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Mortality rates are lower among those who are employed compared to the unemployed. Re-employment after a period of being out of a job has beneficial effects on physical health, psychological distress, and certain psychiatric conditions. Employment also reduces the risk of depression and psychological distress, improves general mental health, and, over time, predicts a positive trend in perceived health and physical functioning in both women and men. Quality employment can be beneficial to people with physical and mental disabilities who are able to work. One important caveat is that the relationship between employment and health and well-being is moderated by job quality and there is a growing literature that low-security, high-stress, or long-hour/shift jobs may not benefit and could actually harm employees’ health.

[Read the full post on HealthAffairs]

Author: Patti Brennan

Director, US National Library of Medicine

One thought on “Health and the Economy”

  1. Re: Long hours bad for your health- yet physicians continue to insist that it’s ok to work Residents for 24 hours at a time.

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