Growth versus health?

A man tows his newly acquired pig in Guantánamo, Cuba. Between 1991-95 the Cuban government imported 1.5m bicycles because of petrol shortage. Photograph: Ramon Espinosa/AP

The fact that there seems to be either no correlation between growth (measured as GDP) and well-being or even a negative one seems to have been well established. Two I have read recently that make this claim are Tim Jackson’s Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet and Rob Dietz’s and Dan O’Neill’s Enough Is Enough: Building A Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources.  I read an interesting article in the Guardian a few weeks ago that offers some evidence for a part of this claim – Hard times behind fall in heart disease and diabetes in 90s Cuba, says study.

The hard times experienced by the people of Cuba in the early 1990s – when food was short and petrol almost unobtainable owing to the tightening of the US embargo and loss of Russian support – led to falling rates of heart disease and diabetes, say doctors.

Between 1991 and 1995 the research team found that the population lost an average of 5.5kg (12lb) in weight during the economic crisis after the Russians stopped economic support. This had a significant impact on health, cutting deaths from diabetes by half and from coronary heart disease by a third. However, after 1996 when the economy began to recover the levels of cycling and walking dropped, calorific intake increased and by 2000 the health benefits had been reversed. One of the key conclusions of the study for governments is that “transportation policies are fundamental – therefore we should encourage walking and bicycling as means of transportation”. The other key factor was a reduction in calorific intake and an improvement in the nutritional value of the diet.  The following video explains the study and outlines its conclusions.

Full report: Population-wide weight loss and regain in relation to diabetes burden and cardiovascular mortality in Cuba 1980-2010: repeated cross sectional surveys and ecological comparison of secular trends BMJ 2013; 346 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f1515 (Published 9 April 2013)

Other reports on this news item:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/04/how-cubans-health-improved-when-their-economy-collapsed/275080/

http://thecubaneconomy.com/articles/2013/04/how-cubans-health-improved-when-their-economy-collapsed-sometimes-financial-crises-can-force-lifestyle-changes-for-the-better/

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/the-cuban-diet-eat-less-exercise-more–and-preventable-deaths-are-halved-8566603.html

This is the TED talk given by Tim Jackson based on his book  Prosperity Without Growth


‎”This is a strange rather perverse story. Let me put it this way in very simple terms. It’s a story about us people, being persuaded to spend money we don’t have, on things we don’t need to create impressions that won’t last on people we don’t care about”. – Tim Jackson


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