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How to boost the U.S. economy: Get healthy

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Latest MoneyWatch headlines 01:08

Healthy people not only tend to live longer -- they’re also better for the U.S. economy.

So conclude Moody’s Analytics and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, which based their findings on analysis of the medical conditions of more than 40 million of the insurer’s members and economic data from most U.S. counties.

Per capita income in the richest 10 percent of counties across the country was $3,700 higher than in poorer areas, unemployment was half a point lower and economic growth over 10 years was 3.5 percent higher. People who lived in these richer counties were also healthier, the data show.

The reason: Healthier zip codes tend to see more robust growth in jobs, population and income even when compared with areas with similar demographics within the same state. Not surprisingly, healthier people are also more likely to be productive and employed. Those in poor health tend to be absent from work more often, hurting overall productivity and their potential earnings.

“A strong economy means better jobs, which are more likely to provide health insurance and the means and education to live a healthier lifestyle,” according to the report “Healthier populations contribute to a stronger local economy, and a stronger local economy contributes to a healthier population.”

Economists from Moody’s Analytics used an index developed by Blue Cross Blue Shield Health to analyze the most common causes of adverse health issues for the insurer’s members, including depression, diabetes, high cholesterol and substance abuse. They also compared that information with economic data at the county level, such as unemployment, income and poverty rates.

While the findings are not not surprising, they underscore the challenge of boosting the economy at a time when nearly 14 percent of the U.S. population -- and a fifth of children -- lives below the poverty line. Compounding the problem is America’s rapidly aging workforce which, coupled with nation’s slowdown in productivity, experts fear could weigh on economic growth in the years to come. 

“Geographic areas that can best harness this cohort of aging workers stands the best chance of sustaining a respectable pace of economic growth as the overall workforce ages in the years ahead,” the report stated. “It stands to reason that older workers can do this only if they remain healthy enough to continue working.”

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