New Studies Suggest Politics has Increasing Effect on Mortality Rate
Representational Image. Image Courtesy: MaxPixel
According to two new studies, the ill effects of partisan politics are leading to an overall increase in the mortality rates of working-age Americans, The Washington Post reported.
One of the studies concluded that people who reside in more conservative parts of the United States were disproportionately affected by illness and death linked to Covid-19. The other study took a broad look at health outcomes; it found a connection between more conservative state policies and shorter lives of the working-age population.
Researchers at Harvard University analysed the data on Covid-19 mortality rates and the stress on intensive care units in hospitals across all 435 congressional districts from April 2021 to March 2022. They also took into account the congressional members’ overall voting records, how they voted on four coronavirus relief bills, and whether the governor’s office and legislature of a state were controlled by one party, the report said.
The study, entitled ‘Relationship of the political ideology of US federal and state elected officials and key COVID pandemic outcomes following vaccine rollout to adults’, was published this month in the Lancet Regional Health-Americas.
During the study period, it was found that “the higher the exposure to conservatism across several political metrics, the higher the COVID-19 age-standardized mortality rates”, after taking into account the racial, education and income characteristics of each congressional district.
The study found similar patterns in models drawing connections between political and social metrics and vaccination rates. For example, the study found that the states with Republican governments and voters leaning towards conservatism remained significantly associated with an 11%–26% higher COVID-19 mortality rate.
According to Nancy Krieger, a social epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and a co-author of one of the studies, the findings cannot be explained as characteristics of the socio-economic conditions of the people in various congressional districts. She told The Washington Post that it is “somehow above and beyond the demographics of the district [that members] represent. It’s suggesting that there is something going on through political processes associated with the political voting patterns of elected officials.”
Krieger added that it is justified for people to ask their elected officials whether they are doing whatever they can in their capacity to the public’s health.
The other study looked at the effects of state policy on the mortality of working-age adults and was published in October in the journal PLOS One. The study considered eight policy domains, including labour and taxes, and each domain was scored on a 0–1, conservative-to-liberal continuum. The study found that these policy domains were associated with working-age mortality. It showed that states, which had more conservative marijuana policies and more liberal policies on the environment, gun safety, labour, economic taxes, and tobacco taxes, saw lower mortality. The researchers observed strong associations between certain domains and specific causes of death, such as between the gun safety domain and suicide mortality among men, and between the labour domain and alcohol-induced mortality, among others.
The October study said that its simulations indicate that “changing all policy domains in all states to a fully liberal orientation might have saved 171,030 lives in 2019”. On the other hand, changing the policy domains to a fully conservative orientation might have cost 217,635 lives.
The study reportedly noted that the emergence of more-conservative state policies and shifts in population in those states only partially explains why U.S. life expectancy is abysmal compared with other high-income nations.
Researchers say that as a result of the growing polarisation within the US, the nation’s whole health profile is deteriorating from an already poor state, the report cited. It is also revealed by the fact that Americans can presently expect to live as long as they did back in 1996, which is 76.1 years; people’s life spans have been shortened by higher rates of chronic illnesses, deaths during childbirth and Covid-19. With abortion services no longer legal nationwide, university researchers have estimated that maternal deaths could increase by up to 25 to 30%, worsening the nation’s maternal mortality and morbidity crisis.
Among other reasons, the report said state policies, along with federal ones shape the economic, family, environmental and behavioural circumstances influencing people’s well-being. Some states have expanded their social safety nets while others have taken the opposite direction.
Public policies and mass opinions on masks, vaccines and other factors helped change the United States’ pattern of Covid mortality.
“Too often, public health and medical behaviour is understood to be individual-level behaviour. Politicians behave. Institutions behave,” Krieger told The Washington Post. She said, “If your congressional representative is encouraging you to wear masks or not wear masks, those are very different messages.”
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