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Chart: Foreclosures lead to health problems

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WALL STREET JOURNAL The stress of foreclosures is bad for your health. Just how bad? “An increase of 100 foreclosures corresponded to a 7.2% rise in emergency room visits and hospitalizations for hypertension, and an 8.1% increase for diabetes, among people aged 20 to 49 ... the same rise in foreclosures was associated with 39% more visits for suicide attempts among the same group,” the Wall Street Journal reports, citing new research by Janet Currie of Princeton University and Erdal Tekin of Georgia State University.

The researchers studied California, Arizona, Florida and New Jersey in the paper, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, noting that the greatest rise was in stress-related problems that affected the neighbors of foreclosed residents as well. They note, however, that this doesn’t mean that foreclosures always directly cause health problems, as the stress could be linked to financial troubles that preceded the loss of a home.

The study mirrors earlier findings linking health problems with unemployment. For a person with no pre-existing health conditions, losing one’s job increased the chances of reporting a new health problem by 83 percent. Overall, the newly unemployed had a 54 percent chance of reporting fair or poor health, according to Dr. Stephen Bezruchka, a senior lecturer at the University of Washington School of Public Health.

Interestingly, though high-stress events such as foreclosures and unemployment may hurt the health of those directly impacted, there’s some evidence that recessions have a positive impact on a nation’s health overall. In 2000, Christopher Ruhm, an economist at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, found that a 1 percent rise in a state’s unemployment rate led to a 0.6 percent decrease in total mortality, looking at mortality changes in the United States between 1972 and 1991. Bezruchka, reviewing such research, explains that economic downturns could improve health through “declines in smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and overeating during recessions as people look for ways to save money.” But the mortality rate alone doesn’t paint the full picture of recession-era well-being in the United States, where those hit hardest may face a double whammy of economic duress and poor health.

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