The global financial crisis has already had a devastating effect on business, banking and employment – but a drop in living standards is set to have a big impact on our health.
Professor Fran Baum, Director of the new Southgate Institute for Health, Society and Equity at Flinders University, says it is inevitable that as unemployment rises and household incomes diminish, the incidence of disease and chronic conditions such as diabetes and obesity will increase.
“The research and academic literature over the best part of a century is conclusive that the status of your health is largely determined by where you live and what work you do,” Professor Baum says.
“A drop in household income, or losing your job altogether, can have a negative effect on the quality of your housing, the food you eat, your ability to pay the bills and to live a well-balanced lifestyle generally,” she says.
And there is also likely to be an increasing gap between the health of the “haves” and the “have-nots”.
Professor Baum says the creation of the Southgate Institute comes at a critical time in the public debate on health.
“Improving daily living conditions and tackling the inequitable distribution of power, money and resources were the two main recommendations of the World Health Organization’s Commission on the Social Determinants of Health last year.
“That a requires serious study of the structures and settings that shape people’s lives, which the Southgate Institute at Flinders University is perfectly placed to lead.
“Researchers at the Southgate Institute will be developing the policies and structures needed to help support people’s lives.”
In addition to an ambitious research agenda, the Southgate Institute aims to foster community debate on matters of public health through regular public lectures, seminars and workshops.
The Southgate Institute for Health, Society and Equity has been established through Professor Baum’s Australian Research Council Federation Fellowship, supported by the SA Department of Health, the SA Social Inclusion Unit and the Premier’s Science and Research Fund.
The Southgate Institute is named after the late Associate Professor Deane O Southgate, Head of then Department of Primary Care and Community Medicine in the School of Medicine, Flinders University at the time of his death in 1991.
The Institute aims to build on the international, national and local reputation of Flinders University for conducting policy and practice relevant research on the social and economic determinants of health and health equity in particular.
The research focus will be on what can be done about the underlying factors that determine the distribution of health and wellbeing outcomes, with a particular emphasis on labour market, social exclusion, housing, structure of suburban environments; economic, social and structural determinants of risky and unhealthy behaviours (including drug and alcohol and other addictions, interpersonal violence, injuries, low physical activity levels and nutrition); and social, cultural and economic barriers to health and other related service use.