by Ila Patnaik, Renuka Sane, Ajay Shah, S. V. Subramaniam.
In health research, we study the causes and consequences of health at the individual level. This requires measurement of the health status of individuals. One simple path lies in asking a person: “Are you feeling well today?“. This `self-reported health’ (SRH) is a measure that is easy to implement, and has limitations in that psychological factors are present. A significant global literature has emerged, which draws on this measure to explore the causes and consequences of health.
The CMIE CPHS is an important new dataset which has longitudinal data for about 170,000 households, measured three times a year. They measure SRH for each individual in each wave. This measurement of SRH, alongside a rich array of household characteristics, makes possible many interesting research projects. In a recent paper, Distribution of self-reported health in India: The role of income and geography, we discern some new facts and phenomena about health in India, through this data.
We use data for calendar 2018 and 2019, which works out to 3.5 million observation of a person in a wave. These years were chosen in order to obtain a baseline description of how health in India works, while avoiding the pandemic of 2020 and the possible impact of demonetisation in 2017.
What do we find? On average, ill health is observed for 3.25% of the records. On average, people in India are unwell for about 12 days a year. There is a U-shaped curve in age, with higher ill health rates for the young and the old.
We get a nice map of the variation of the ill-health rate across the country. This is interesting, in and of itself, as it shows us something about health care requirement. However, some of this geographical variation could just reflect geographical heterogeneity in income and age structure.
We estimate logit models which explore correlations between standard socio-economic measures and the ill-health rate. The most important sources of variation are age, income and location.
We then focus on an approximately modal person: a Hindu male, SC/ST, rural, class 12 education, age 35-49, modal income. Model-based predictions for the ill-health probability are constructed for this individual. This yields a map of the predicted ill-health rate across the country –
This shows the variation of ill-health in the 102 `homogeneous regions’ (HRs) of the country, after controlling for income and age structure. It is an interesting and new map. This map does not easily fit into the standard stereotypes of north vs. south. Epidemiological research is required in understanding what is at work in each of the difficult HRs. Major gains in the health of the people could potentially be obtained by focusing on these hot spots and finding the right public health interventions.
We also ask the question: are rich people healthier than poor people? As the rich fare better on nutrition, housing quality, knowledge and access to health care, we expect there would be such a correlation, and it is indeed present in the overall aggregate data. However, there is strong geographical variation in this correlation. Ill health and poverty are positively correlated in about half of the country. There are even HRs where the relationship is reverse — where poor people report better health than the rich. Further, the two maps (the map of ill health of the modal person, and the map of the places where ill health is not positively correlated with income) show different patterns. They are distinct phenomena that invite further exploration.
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