Health Shocks and Their Long-Lasting Impact on Health Behaviors

Evidence from the 2009 H1N1 Pandemic in Mexico

Published in:Journal of Health Economics Volume 54, July 2017, Pages 40-55. doi:10.1016/j.jhealeco.2017.03.008

Posted on RAND.org on May 19, 2017

by Trinidad Beleche

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Worldwide, the leading causes of death could be avoided with health behaviors that are low-cost but also difficult to adopt. We show that exogenous health shocks could facilitate the adoption of these behaviors and provide long-lasting effects on health outcomes. Specifically, we exploit the spatial and temporal variation of the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic in Mexico and show that areas with a higher incidence of H1N1 experienced larger reductions in diarrhea-related cases among young children. These reductions continue even three years after the shock ended. Health improvements and evidence of information seeking via Google searches were consistent with changes in hand washing behaviors. Several robustness checks validate our findings and mechanism.

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