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Financial crises and child health: reflections from Iceland
  1. Geir Gunnlaugsson
  1. Correspondence to Professor Geir Gunnlaugsson, Faculty of Social and Human Sciences, University of Iceland, Reykjavik, Iceland; geirgunnlaugsson{at}hi.is

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In 2007, Iceland ranked first on the Human Development Index, reinforcing the pervasive idea at the time that Iceland was ‘best’. The economic meltdown in October 2008 crushed this national illusion, and the social fabric of the country was severely shaken. The government sought help from and collaboration with the International Monetary Fund, and cut costs across the whole public sector complemented with tax hikes. The welfare system, its most costly component, was not spared despite efforts to alleviate the burdens of those most vulnerable.1

The socioeconomic situation of families is an important determinant for their health and well-being, and in times of economic crisis, they may gradually slide below the poverty line with risks for the health and well-being of their children.2 This entails, but is not limited to, worse housing, low-quality nutrition, general stress and worse mental health. Furthermore, in times of crisis, the family’s access to healthcare services is at risk to be curtailed if measures are not taken to effectively protect them.

Populations across Europe felt the impact of the crisis through decreased household income and less public expenditure on health, followed by reforms that, for example, entailed increased copayments.3 Unemployment rates rose, affecting particularly young people, and the proportion of children at risk of poverty increased in countries such as Greece,4 Italy,5 Spain,6 Portugal7 and the UK.8 Impact on infant mortality rates has not been observed, with the exception of Greece where it increased by 43% in 2011 compared with 2008, …

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