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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 February 2008, 00:58 GMT
Bank crises 'deadly for health'
Queue outside Northern Rock
The elderly are thought most likely to feel the health consequences
There could be thousands more heart attacks if the Northern Rock crisis was repeated at other banks across the UK, a Cambridge University study suggests.

The report, which examines how banking crises have affected health in the last 40 years, is one of the first to look at the relationship between the two.

When a financial crisis hit a developed country, heart attacks rose by 6.4%.

This figure was even higher in the developing world, the Globalization and Health journal study suggested.

The researchers looked at a series of incidents from 1960 to 2002, including the US savings and loan scandal of 1985, and the Swedish financial crisis of the early 1990s.

They then looked at World Health Organisation mortality figures for those years.

Cardiac deaths surged "briefly and regularly" every time there was a systemic bank failure, the team found.

An episode in which a significant proportion of banks fail or their assets are exhausted
Definition of bank crisis

Extrapolated to the UK, more crises in the style of Northern Rock, where funding problems last year triggered the first run on a British bank in more than a century, could lead to as many as 5,000 more fatal heart attacks.

The elderly, who would be more likely to be at risk of heart problems in the first place, would be the most likely to feel threatened by risks to their life-long accumulated savings.

At present, around 60,000 people die prematurely in the UK every year of cardiovascular disease.

Counting costs

In countries such as India a combination of both poorer banking regulatory systems and inferior health care could lead to an even higher death toll - with deaths rising by as much as 26%, the researchers suggested.

Containing hysteria and preventing widespread panic is important not only to stop these incidents leading to a systemic bank crisis, but also to prevent potentially thousands of heart disease deaths
David Stuckler
Lead researcher

David Stuckler, a social epidemiologist who led the research, said the study suggested there were more than financial factors to take into account when a country faced a banking crisis.

"It's not just about the money," he said.

"Containing hysteria and preventing widespread panic is important not only to stop these incidents leading to a systemic bank crisis, but also to prevent potentially thousands of heart disease deaths."

It has long been known that stress triggers increased activity in the heart, a move designed to maximise blood flow, so that the body is primed to take quick action.

But the exact role which stress plays in the development of disease is still unclear.

"We still need to further understand the mechanisms of how this may happen," says June Davison of the British Heart Foundation.

"Feeling very stressed can also lead to unhealthy behaviours such as smoking, eating a poor diet, drinking too much alcohol and not getting enough exercise - adding to the risk of developing heart problems."



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