Health expert criticizes Harvard prof's study on 'health behaviors' in Republican counties

A study spanning 19 years claims to have found a 'mortality gap' between individuals who identified as Democrats and individuals who registered as Republicans.

Doug Badger, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Health and Welfare Policy at the Heritage Foundation, disagreed with the findings.

study spanning 19 years claims to have found a "mortality gap" between individuals who identified as Democrats and individuals who registered as Republicans. 

According to the research team's findings, which includes Dr. Haider Warraich, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School,  overall deaths went down 22% in “Democratic counties” but only 11% in “Republican counties.”

Doug Badger, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Health and Welfare Policy at the Heritage Foundation, disagreed with this conclusion. 

He told Campus Reform, “The study posits a link between voting patterns in presidential elections and age-adjusted mortality, a link the study doesn’t well establish and which the authors concede they cannot explain.”

He also pointed out that many of the counties used for the study had changed affiliation “multiple times.”

Warraich told Yahoo News that, “The real reason why we think this gap occurred between Democratic and Republican counties is because of what’s going on with white Americans. White Americans who live in Democratic areas are much more likely to have great improvements in health compared to white people who live in Republican counties.”

Campus Reform spoke with Warraich about the study. 

When asked why he thought the results showed such a disparity between white voters in different parties, Warraich said that each party has its own approach to health. 

“I think one thing that is clear is that health behaviors have also increasingly become partisan, which is really unfortunate," he stated.

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 Badger disagrees.

“Its main findings are weakened by the fact that hundreds of counties switched party allegiances – some multiple times – over the five presidential election cycles," he stated.

The experiment was conducted from 2001-2019 and gathered information from over 3,000 counties in all 50 states. 

Warraich also pointed out that in his study non-white Republican voters did not experience the gap between parties. In some cases they fared better; Republican Hispanic voters were an example of this trend. 

“And if you look at other racial and ethnic group that we looked at, essentially non-white Hispanics, Hispanic Americans and Black Americans," he said. "Both of those groups, regardless of whether they live in a Republican county or a Democratic county, have seen a  pretty decent degree of improvement.”

Badger stated that the differences were not “statistically significant.”

“Average age-adjusted mortality for blacks declined by an identical 1.4% over the period in both Democratic and Republican counties. Mortality among Hispanics fell by 1.6% in GOP counties, compared with just 1.3% in Democratic counties, although the confidence intervals overlap," he noted. 

"The only statistically significant difference was a 1% decline among whites in counties that backed Democrats vs. a 0.6% decline in Republican counties," Badger continued. 

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The study pointed to 2008 as a marker for when the gap started to significantly increase. Health experts involved in the study pointed to the increased accessibility of healthcare for lower-income families after the Affordable Healthcare Act was passed. 

Badger felt this conclusion was misplaced.

“I would never suggest a 'link' between the ACA’s implementation and across-the-board increases in age-adjusted mortality, just as I would never suggest a link between age-adjusted mortality and living in a county that voted for a Republican presidential candidate," he said. 

Campus Reform reached out to Harvard University; this article will be updated according. 

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