A new study conducted by researchers from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health explored the effects that social policies can have on consumers’ well-being.
They learned that these interventions, which are designed to offer economic support, have more benefits than many may realize. In addition to financial benefits, the researchers noticed an improvement in health outcomes in consumers who took advantage of social policies.
“Since the 1960s, a large number of social policies that have been experimentally evaluated include health outcomes, but these were mostly overlooked,” said researcher Dr. Peter Muening. “Our goal was to conduct a comprehensive review of experimental studies of social and economic interventions that were not explicitly designed for the purpose of improving the health of participants. Health outcomes were often added as an afterthought or overlooked.”
Boosting health outcomes
The researchers analyzed a wide variety of data to better understand the impact that social policies can have on improving health. Their data spanned from the early 1960s all the way through 2018. The study included social policies like income assistance, health insurance, employment support services, and early education, among several others.
After analyzing all their reports, the researchers found that health outcomes improved nearly half the time for participants who benefitted from a social program. These findings are important because they show the correlation between economic support and subsequent health benefits.
While the researchers found a noticeable improvement in mental health, they also found that improved health overall was associated with longer life and a better quality of life for the participants.
Providing educational resources also proved to be valuable to the participants, as they were able to take what they learned and apply it to real-life behavior. The researchers explained that having these interventions, especially at an early age, was linked with a nearly 10 percent reduction in smoking.
“Although this is a fairly small percentage, it could have wide implications and may be proxy for other forms of risk-taking behaviors, such as condom or seatbelt use,” said researcher Emilie Courtin, PhD.
Improving health outside the health care system
Moving forward, the researchers recommend that policymakers focus on the results that stemmed from implementing health insurance, education, and income support services, as these had the best overall health outcomes and can make a real difference in consumers’ lives.
“Our study is exciting because it shows for the first time that it is possible for the government to improve health by making investments outside of the health system,” said Dr. Muening. “The strong investments made by peer nations in welfare may explain why they have left the United States in the dust with respect to health and longevity.”