Health outcomes during the 2008 financial crisis in Europe: systematic literature review

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Abstract

Objective

To systematically identify, critically appraise, and synthesise empirical studies about the impact of the 2008 financial crisis in Europe on health outcomes.

Design

Systematic literature review.

Data sources

Structural searches of key databases, healthcare journals, and organisation based websites.

Review methods

Empirical studies reporting on the impact of the financial crisis on health outcomes in Europe, published from January 2008 to December 2015, were included. All selected studies were assessed for risk of bias. Owing to the heterogeneity of studies in terms of study design and analysis and the use of overlapping datasets across studies, studies were analysed thematically per outcome, and the evidence was synthesised on different health outcomes without formal meta-analysis.

Results

41 studies met the inclusion criteria, and focused on suicide, mental health, self rated health, mortality, and other health outcomes. Of those studies, 30 (73%) were deemed to be at high risk of bias, nine (22%) at moderate risk of bias, and only two (5%) at low risk of bias, limiting the conclusions that can be drawn. Although there were differences across countries and groups, there was some indication that suicides increased and mental health deteriorated during the crisis. The crisis did not seem to reverse the trend of decreasing overall mortality. Evidence on self rated health and other indicators was mixed.

Conclusions

Most published studies on the impact of financial crisis on health in Europe had a substantial risk of bias; therefore, results need to be cautiously interpreted. Overall, the financial crisis in Europe seemed to have had heterogeneous effects on health outcomes, with the evidence being most consistent for suicides and mental health. There is a need for better empirical studies, especially those focused on identifying mechanisms that can mitigate the adverse effects of the crisis.

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