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Born in a Recession? You May Die Sooner.

Reality BaseBy Melissa LafskyAugust 13, 2008 8:51 PM


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Recessions have been shown to lead to dramatic health declines among adults. But now, it looks like even being born during a downturn can come back to bite you later in life. A new paper out of Germany's Institute for the Study of Labor found that people born during a recession die on average 15 months earlier than those born during times of prosperity. The difference is predominantly due to heart disease, which often doesn't show up until people's 70s or 80s. To test their theory, the research team used that hallmark of human data: identical twins, all from the Twin Registry in Denmark, which has carefully recorded birth and death dates and causes of death since the 1870s. Lead author Gerard van den Berg and his co-authors compared sets of twins born in different years with the macroeconomic conditions (GDP) at the time of their birth, controlling for the modest advances in medicine and health care over time. The results indicated that "If an individual is born in a boom as opposed to a recession, then one can expect to live 0.8 years longer beyond age 40, just because the risk of CV [cardiovascular] mortality is lower." Economic conditions during pregnancy and between ages one through three had no effect—rather, what mattered was the state of the economy at and shortly after birth. For both monozygotic (identical) and dizygotic (fraternal) twins, the team found that the health of each pair of twins later in life was more similar if they were born during a recession than during times of prosperity. Van den Berg reasons that all this cardiovascular disease is triggered by the combination of poor nutrition and a suboptimal health care early in life—though, of course, nutrition and health care in Denmark in the early 1900s are far cries from the shelters of modern technology. Still, the authors point to signs that the trend may be continuing through time, such as more recent birth weight studies that show the strong effects of early nutrition on health and adult height. Plus there's the whole matter of stressed-out parents adjusting to a tanking economy—and the debt, insecurity, and physical toll that comes with it—plus a brand new baby—which is a world of stress in and of itself. Image: iStockPhoto

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