My role


It's not fair: injustice can kill

When we're treated unfairly or feel cheated or see it happen to other people we often say, 'it made me sick'. That statement could be truer than we think.

According to research from the UK and Finland, people who feel unfairly treated are at a greater risk of a heart attack and in worse overall physical and mental health overall.

This was a major study - researchers followed 8,298 London-based civil servants for an average of 11 years — and after adjustments were made for age, sex and other factors, people who reported higher levels of unfair treatment:

  • were 55% more likely to have a heart attack or to have developed heart disease/chest pain during the follow-up period.
  • 46% more likely to report poor physical health and
  • 54% more likely to have poor mental health

For politicians who say they to do something about our poor health, this could be the best news ever. They can't change our genes, they can make society fairer.

Dr. Roberto De Vogli of University College London, the study's lead author, told Reuters: 'Addressing injustice in the social environment in society can be a way to promote health and to reduce health problems.'

Dr De Vogli suggested a number of ways in which unfair treatment could contribute to poor health. The treatment could make a person more hostile and angry, and also increase the risk of depression. People may also choose unhealthy ways to cope with the stress of unfair treatment, such as smoking or drinking excessively.

Previous research has linked unfair treatment at work to risk factors for heart disease such as high blood pressure, while men working in settings where organizational justice is high face a lower heart disease risk, De Vogli and his team noted in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

These findings may seem pretty obvious but by bringing some numbers into the picture, this study shows just how big an impact unfairness can have. It is particularly worrying for health campaigners at a time when society is becoming less fair.

Income inequality continues to increase — the gap was wider again last year despite a slight inprovement at the start of the century. The Office of National Statistics says: 'Income inequality still remains high by historical standards - the large increase which took place in the second half of the 1980s has not been reversed.'

Malehealth editor Jim Pollard said: 'We don't yet know who Gordon Brown's health ministers will be but let's hope that they take notice of this. Health warnings on booze, while welcome, are pretty easy to do; a fairer society takes a little more effort and courage.'

Page created on May 28th, 2007

Page updated on December 1st, 2009