Democracy is proving good for your health

In a major study of 170 countries, it was concluded that democracy is good for the heart and health leading to longevity. This is wonderful news for a system of governance that has faced significant losses and criticism globally in recent years.

The findings are impressive, and the researchers who published their study in the Lancet,  found that countries which switched to democracy over the last 50 years have fewer deaths from heart disease, cancers and road deaths.

The “democracy effect”, according to the study, had nothing to do with the fact that these countries have a higher GDP but was related to public pressure.

The study emphasized that the increased ability to hold a government accountable and responsible through free and fair elections appear to be an important contributor to the results.

Even though the majority of the world’s population lives in democracies, in recent years more than 2 billion people live in countries where democracy is being challenged, including India, Turkey, Brazil and the US.

Populism is on the rise in many democratic countries, and many autocracies such as China, Rwanda, Vietnam and Singapore are deemed to be relatively successful, causing populations to question whether the democratic system is working for them.

The findings of the study are proving that, as far as our health is concerned, there is no doubt that it’s working. Even though many are disappointed with the way their democracies are doing, the ability to vote contributes to our wellbeing.

The V-Dem database provided the researchers with the data and the researchers plotted them with the metrics, including government health spending and disease outcomes. The researchers compared trends in countries that had transitioned from autocracy to democracy since 1970 with 55 states that had not. They did not factor in HIV, fearing that the amount of foreign aid allotted to countries would have caused irregularities in their findings.

Life expectancy improved overall in countries from as soon as 10 years after their transition to democracy. At age 15, it was 3% higher than in countries that had not changed government type. Diseases that also decreased were cardiovascular disease, tuberculosis, road injuries and chronic disease.

All of the above diseases are accountable for a quarter of deaths and disabilities in people under 70 in low and middle-income countries and according to Thomas Bollyky, from the US Council on Foreign Relations and lead author, they estimated that increased democracy  between 1994 and 2914, resulted in 16 million fewer deaths from cardiovascular disease around the world.  He has expressed the belief that if China had experienced the same democratic transition as Poland, over the same period, they would have saved 10 million lives from heart disease alone.

Bollyky has stressed that the lack of public pressure on governments for better health services is the main cause of disease and in democracies people have less of this.

Dr Joseph Dielman, from the Institute for Health Metrics Evaluation, co-authored the paper, and recently said in an interview that funding programs were needed to help countries strengthen their democratic processes so that the health of adults would be improved.

This is the biggest study ever undertaken to make a correlation between democracy and adult health. Most studies up to now had focused on the impact of democracy on the health of younger age groups.

The work was funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation and conducted by the US Council on Foreign Relations and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.