By Katherine Filippeos
The glass is both half full and half empty, regarding the prolonged economic crisis in Greece and its impact on the health of the nation’s people.
A new Greek-British scientific study, perhaps the most complete that has been done to date on the issue, shows that in some areas the crisis had negative results, in some it had positive and on some issues the impact is neutral.
The study, led by Philip Philippides, lecturer at the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, in a journal, published the Scientific Reports and evaluated a multitude of data up to 2015.
Participating in the survey were John Toundas, Professor of Social and Preventive Medicine and director of Health Services Research Center at the Medical University of Athens, as well as Vasiliki Gerovasili of the Harefield Hospital in London.
The first year of the crisis was in 2010, since austerity measures were first imposed which resulted in visible recession, unemployment and the impact on the Greek economy.
The researchers, however, point out that seven years later, there is still considerable uncertainty about the impact of the crisis on the health of Greeks and expect more data in the future for reassessment.
In summary, the main findings of the study are:
- Suicide and infant mortality have worsened during the crisis. In addition, mental health, particularly depression, has deteriorated significantly, but there was no increase in homicides.
- Mortality from respiratory disease and accidents have improved, but since 2013-14 the improvement appears to have stopped.
- Smoking and sedentary lifestyle have decreased significantly, while diet and obesity did not show significant changes and the crisis had a neutral effect.
- The percentage of people who wanted medical assistance (for example to make a diagnostic test) and were unable, has more than doubled from 10% in 2010 to almost 22% in 2015, mainly because of the cost.
- The percentage of people who paid from their own pockets for health services and medications almost doubled (from 34.5% in 2010 to 58.7% in 2015), as the average amount paid (about 429 euros in 2010 and 505 euros in 2015).
Specifically, between 2010-2015 Greece continued to exhibit a record downward trend in the mortality of the two major causes of death, cardiovascular diseases and cancer.
Respiratory diseases, which increased by 2009, in time of crisis declined, mainly due to the reduction of smoking and less movement of vehicles (hence cleaner air).
In general, the younger Greeks benefited more, while there were no changes in mortality for people 50-70 years old.
The average annual decrease in mortality from traffic accidents was 7% during the crisis compared to only 2.7% between 2001-2009. Mortality from suicides increased at an average annual rate of 7.8% since 2009, compared with 1.6% before the crisis. Indicatively, in 2014 there were throughout Greece 174 more suicides compared to 2009. However, as the study points out, Greece still has one of the lowest suicide rates among developed countries.
The birth rate in Greece fell at an average annual rate of 3.9% between 2009-2015 while child mortality increased by 26% during the crisis.
The percentage of smokers decreased from 42.6% in 2008 to 36.5% in 2015. Despite the inadequate implementation of anti-smoking measures, in 2015 there were 540,000 fewer adult smokers than in 2008.
The average annual consumption per smoker decreased from 3,164 to 1,979 cigarettes in the first five years of the crisis, mainly due to the reduction of disposable income.
The sedentary lifestyle was significantly reduced from 43.4% in 2006 to 29% in 2015.
The healthy consumption of fruit and vegetables has been almost constant (51.2% in 2015 compared to 52.1% in 2008), while obesity rates exhibited a marginal reduction (from 18.1% in 2008 to 17.4% in 2015).