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The recent economic recession and self-rated health in Estonia, Lithuania and Finland: a comparative cross-sectional study in 2004–2010
  1. Rainer Reile1,2,
  2. Satu Helakorpi3,
  3. Jurate Klumbiene4,
  4. Mare Tekkel5,
  5. Mall Leinsalu5,6
  1. 1Department of Public Health, University of Tartu, Tartu, Estonia
  2. 2Institute of Social Studies, University of Tartu, Tartu, Estonia
  3. 3Department of Lifestyle and Participation, National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), Helsinki, Finland
  4. 4Institute for Health Research, Public Health Faculty, Lithuanian University of Health Sciences, Kaunas, Lithuania
  5. 5Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, National Institute for Health Development, Tallinn, Estonia
  6. 6Stockholm Centre on Health of Societies in Transition, Södertörn University, Huddinge, Sweden
  1. Correspondence to Rainer Reile, Department of Public Health, University of Tartu, Ravila 19, Tartu 50411, Estonia; rainer.reile{at}


Background The late-2000s financial crisis had a severe impact on the national economies on a global scale. In Europe, the Baltic countries were among those most affected with more than a 20% decrease in per capita gross domestic product in 2008–2009. In this study, we explored the effects of economic recession on self-rated health in Estonia and Lithuania using Finland, a neighbouring Nordic welfare state, as a point of reference.

Methods Nationally representative cross-sectional data for Estonia (n=10 966), Lithuania (n=7249) and Finland (n=11 602) for 2004–2010 were analysed for changes in age-standardised prevalence rates of less-than-good self-rated health and changes in health inequalities using logistic regression analysis.

Results The prevalence of less-than-good self-rated health increased slightly (albeit not statistically significantly) in all countries during 2008–2010. This was in sharp contrast to the statistically significant decline in the prevalence of less-than-good health in 2004–2008 in Estonia and Lithuania. Health disparities were larger in Estonia and Lithuania when compared to Finland, but decreased in 2008–2010 (in men only). In Finland, both the prevalence of less-than-good health and health disparities remained fairly stable throughout the period.

Conclusions Despite the rapid economic downturn, the short-term health effects in Estonia and Lithuania did not differ from those in Finland, although the recession years marked the end of the previous positive trend in self-rated health. The reduction in health disparities during the recession indicates that different socioeconomic groups were affected disproportionately; however, the reasons for this require further research.

  • Self-Rated Health
  • Eastern Europe
  • Health inequalities
  • Socio-Economic

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