Democracy cuts health risks, increases longevity: Lancet Study
Democracy isn’t just good for the soul, but is good for the body too, according to a study spanning 170 countries that found a strong correlation between health and the most progressive form of government.
People living in democracies live longer than those who don’t, said the study, published in The Lancet on Thursday.
The also have a lesser chance of dying from heart disease, strokes, even road accidents. “The study suggests that elections and the health of the people are increasingly inseparable. Without pressure or validation from voters or foreign-aid agencies, dictators have less incentive to finance the more expensive prevention and treatment of heart diseases, cancers, and other chronic illnesses,” said study lead Thomas Bollyky, director of the global health programme at the Council on Foreign Relations, Washington DC.
The study also addressed an important but-then argument by contrasting the health benefits of democracy with those of wealth (because, on average, democracies tend to have higher national incomes than dictatorships).
An analysis of political, economic, and population health information collected over 46 years found that democracy played a bigger role in improving public health than a country’s economic output.
After controlling for HIV/AIDS, life expectancy improved faster in countries that transitioned to democracy between 1970 and 2015 compared to those that didn’t, with life expectancy on average increasing by 3% after 10 years, according to the study.
“Free and fair elections appear important for improving adult health… most likely by increasing government accountability and responsiveness,” said the study published by the medical journal.
As levels of democracy increased, governments spent more on health, irrespective of a country’s gross domestic product (GDP), it found.
“Democracy, if it functions well, enables better prioritisation of health actions, influences other sectors to enable and not erode public health, supports energetic public engagement and ensures government accountability. This will undoubtedly yield many health benefits,” said Dr K Srinath Reddy, president, Public Health Foundation of India.
The causes of death most affected by democratic experience — cardiovascular diseases including heart disease and stroke, tuberculosis, road deaths, cancers and other non-communicable diseases — account for half of adult deaths in India.
An estimated 2.5 billion people, roughly a third of the world’s population, live in countries where freedom of expression, the right to vote, and freedom of association are threatened.
Democracies like India that are not dependent on foreign aid should promote and practice a vibrant and vigilant democracy as its own strength, said public health experts from India.
“We do not need foreign funding for that. Even low-income countries should build their democratic traditions free from motivated foreign coercion,” said Dr Reddy.