The ‘Heart Kuznets Curve’? Understanding the relations between economic development and cardiac conditions

May, 2020


Allan Kardec Barros
Altair da Silva Costa Junior

As countries turn wealthier, some health indicators, such as child mortality, seem to have well-defined trends. However, others, including cardiovascular conditions, do not follow clear linear patterns of change with economic development. Abnormal blood pressure is a serious health risk factor with consequences for population growth and longevity as well as public and private expenditure in health care and labor productivity. This also increases the risk of the population in certain pandemics, such as COVID-19. To determine the correlation of income and blood pressure, we analyzed time-series for the mean systolic blood pressure (SBP) of men’s population (mmHg) and nominal Gross Domestic Product per capita (GDPPC) for 136 countries from 1980 to 2008 using regression and statistical analysis by Pearson’s correlation (r). Our study finds a trend similar to an inverted-U shaped curve, or a ‘Heart Kuznets Curve’. There is a positive correlation (increase GDPPC, increase SBP) in low-income countries, and a negative correlation in high-income countries (increase GDPPC, decrease SBP). As country income rises people tend to change their diets and habits and have better access to health services and education, which affects blood pressure. However, the latter two may not offset the rise in blood pressure until countries reach a certain income. Investing early in health education and preventive health care could avoid the sharp increase in blood pressure as countries develop, and therefore, avoiding the ‘Heart Kuznets Curve’ and its economic and human impacts.

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