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UNB professor examining health implications of precarious labour movement

Author: UNB Newsroom

Posted on Jan 16, 2019

Category: UNB Saint John

According to one University of New Brunswick professor, economic insecurity may not only have a strong impact on your mental health, but it can also impact your waist line.

Dr. Barry Watson, associate professor of economics in the faculty of business on UNB’s Saint John campus, specializes in health and labour economics. Since joining the faculty in 2014, he has completed a number of empirical studies investigating the mental and physical health implications of economic insecurity, using Canada’s longitudinal National Population Health Survey.

While job loss is typically a very stressful experience, his work suggests the threat of job loss, namely a negative economic insecurity shock, is often a more important predictor of psychological distress – a finding which grows exponentially as the individual becomes chronically insecure.

In terms of weight gain, previous studies argue that over-eating during stressful times is a self-medicating response, genetically inherited over many millennia during which the threat of starvation was common. Although functional in the past when calories were occasionally scarce, in today’s calorie-rich environment, over-eating has become an evolutionary response to stress. Dr. Watson’s work has found that economic insecurity shocks are no exception, predicting a rise in BMI, especially among low-educated males.

“While much of the developed world has experienced tremendous economic growth over the past 30 years, it has been enjoyed by a relatively small segment of society,” says Dr. Watson.

“Although this has certainly led to a rise in income and wealth inequality, it has also created a growing class of workers who are affected by job insecurity. And while firms were previously responsible for pooling risks common to workers, such as the provision of job security and non-monetary benefits, market liberalization has incentivized shifting such risks onto labour.”

Dr. Watson’s findings suggest the need for public policy initiatives which improve the social safety nets for economically vulnerable groups, thereby improving the well-being of many Canadians and reducing the economic burden on the healthcare system.

As Canada’s population continues to age, proactive policies that address preventable illnesses become even more essential, according to Dr. Watson.

Media contact: Angie Deveau

Photo credit: Cascada Expediciones