The theme of Prof. Naoki Kondo’s research is the social determinants of health. Various levels of social context affect health. For example, economic conditions, such as income inequality and economic crises, may threaten health. Another factor that has attracted the interest of many researchers and policymakers is social capital. If you live in a community rich in social capital in other words, people in your community trust each other and undertake various collective actions under reciprocal norms you may have a greater chance of maintaining good health. More specific social status characteristics such as income, educational attainment, occupation, and interpersonal relationships are also known to be important social determinants of health.
- Social capital and health
Dr. Kondo has investigated the effects of social capital on health by using large-scale epidemiological data from Japan and other countries. For example, in Japan, he has determined the positive and negative health impacts of mujin, which enable local financial self-help activities and are formally known in economics as rotating savings credit associations; such activities are constitutive of traditional social capital. Mujin are old and rooted in culture; they were not established in most areas in Japan, but continue to operate in certain areas and are extremely active in Yamanashi and Okinawa. Their primary purpose, however, is not financial but to maintain social bonds between members. From the results of an eight-year follow-up study in Yamanashi, Dr. Kondo and his colleagues found that older adults who were actively involved in mujin groups were less likely to be bedridden and die prematurely compared to those who did not participate in mujin; furthermore, for those who participated in mujin that were strongly financially oriented, such risks were in fact increased!
- Macroeconomic contexts and health
Dr. Kondo has been intensively involved in epidemiological studies on income inequality and economic crises. He and his colleagues at the University of Yamanashi and Harvard University analyzed data in over 200 published papers that investigated the effect of income inequality on individuals’ health. They found that people who live in societies with high levels of income inequality have an increased chance of dying prematurely regardless of financial status.
[Paper]Do economic crises increase health disparities? According to Dr. Kondo and his colleagues’ work, such an increase is highly dependent on social context, including culture, the welfare system, the severity of the crisis, and governmental measures to ameliorate financial difficulties. Many economic and epidemiological papers have suggested that economic crises usually increase health disparities as those who become financially insecure due to such crises are more likely to have reduced access to good healthcare and be affected by strong social stresses. However, during Japan’s worst-ever recession in the 1990s?the so-called burst of the “bubble economy”? The health of relatively socially privileged groups, namely managers and professionals, may have deteriorated. According to their analysis of Japanese census and death registry data, mortality risks among working-age men were higher among manual workers than among managers until the early 1990s, a pattern that has been observed in many other industrialized countries. However, after the late 1990s, this order was flipped: mortality risks became the highest among managers! The results were most remarkable regarding suicide mortality.
[Paper 1][Paper 2]
- Community interventions for healthy ageing
Dr. Kondo is a co-principal investigator of the Japan Gerontological Evaluation Study (JAGES), a large-scale epidemiological study that has followed more than 100,000 older Japanese people since 2003. To date, the JAGES project team has developed multiple management tools for community public health and long-term care prevention programs, for example, the JAGES Health Equity Assessment and Response Tool (JAGES-HEART). JAGES-HEART was developed collaboratively with the World Health Organization
- Other research areas
In addition to these research topics, Dr. Kondo has also been involved as an advisor in several projects related to infectious disease control in Nepal, Bangladesh, and Papua New Guinea.
For more information on Dr. Kondo’s research and works, please visit the following links:
Google Scholar: http://scholar.google.com/citations?user=ESq4XuAAAAAJ&hl=en