A similar pattern may be at work during the current downturn, the authors suggested.
"My expectation is that mortality rates in 2008 will be lower than in 2007, and probably in 2009 will be lower than 2008," Tapia said. "There is a general improvement, even though suicides are going up."
Joshua Klapow, associate professor at the University of Alabama Birmingham's School of Public Health, said he would be cautious about applying any of the findings to today's recession.
Society has changed significantly in the past 60 to 80 years, he said. Medical advances enable people to live with chronic diseases for much longer nowadays. Infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis, kill fewer people today. Fewer people do manual labor, smoking has declined, and obesity has shot up.
"The only points of similarity are the economic factors," Klapow said. "You can't equate health status, health care, health costs or lifestyles with the 1920s or the 1930s. You have confounding factors right now that prevent us from drawing any reasonable conclusion about our current state."
And during this downturn, studies show that many Americans are making poor health choices, such as cutting back on medications and putting off medical care because of costs.
"We have a lot of indicators during this economic turmoil that the health status of our population is not getting better," Klapow said. "The study is fascinating, but we have to be very careful not to forecast a trajectory to our present day."
The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library & Museum has more on the Great Depression.
SOURCES: Jose Tapia Granados, Ph.D., M.P.H., assistant research scientist, University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, Ann Arbor, Mich.; Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., associ
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