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Engaging Distance Learners with No Economic Background in an Online Health Economics Course

Preseting at the pre-congress session on teaching health economics at IHEA in Boston on 8th July 2017:

Engaging Distance Learners with No Economic Background in an Online Health Economics Course

Heather Brown

Background: Many students who decide to undertake a distance learning course need to balance their learning with jobs and other commitments.  This impacts on when and how they engage with online materials. 

Aims: This presentation will outline two methods for engaging health professionals with no previous economics experience enrolled in an online health economics module as part of a Master’s programme in Oncology and Palliative Care.

Methods: Many of the students would access the material in chunks to fit around their busy schedules rather than on a weekly basis as per the layout of the course.  This meant that discussion boards were not a useful tool to foster engagement.  To create a collaborative learning environment that fit in with the needs of the students, I developed a wiki exercise and sequential group work. 

Results: The economic evaluation wiki exercise allowed students to contribute to completing a basic example of an economic evaluation of comparing four different methods for screening for colon cancer when their schedule permitted.  The health care market group work gave each individual two weeks to complete their part in identifying market failure in the market for health and offering solutions to overcome these failures.  Students were able to engage with their classmates by discussing the material and submitting an assignment at the end of the 6 week group exercise whilst still having a flexible timeframe for their learning.

Conclusion: Alternative methods of engagement to discussion boards are successful for health care professionals taking an online health economics module.  


The proof is in the pudding: Exploring the impact of different methods for measuring obesity on wage discrimination

Annual Scottish Economic Society Conference in Perth, Scotland (24-26th April)

The proof is in the pudding: Exploring the impact of different methods for measuring obesity on wage discrimination

Heather Brown and Frauke Becker

Evidence suggests that especially for female workers, being obese as classified by Body Mass Index (BMI) results in pay discrimination in the workplace.  Research also indicates that obese individuals have increased risk of suffering from poor health which may impact on their productivity at work and subsequently their observed wage.  Thus there are both productivity and non-productivity related factors that may explain observed lower wages of obese individuals. 

There is some indication that BMI which does not control for body composition in terms of muscle vs fat may bias estimates of an obesity wage penalty.  Until recently because of the costs associated with collecting alternative measures of obesity such as waist circumference (WC) and percent body fat (PBF) this data was not available in large household surveys which contain the rich employment data needed to further research this area. 

 In this study we exploit the Understanding Society Survey; the largest household survey in the world of approximately 20,000 UK households.  It contains rich information on employment, socioeconomic characteristics and demographic information.  There are currently 5 waves of data available.  In addition, in waves 2 and 3, a sub-sample of respondents were chosen to participate in a nurse assessment survey where biomarker data and three different measures of adiposity: BMI, WC, and PBF were collected.  We utilise this information to compare and contrast by adiposity measure evidence of an obesity wage penalty.  Separate analysis is performed by gender.  We also explore differences by socioeconomic status measured by occupation class.  The analysis is estimated using Oaxaca-Blinder decomposition correcting for selection into the labour market.  In some estimation models, after controlling for potential endogeneity of health and labour market outcomes using selection models; we control for obesity related health conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure which will explain productivity differences in wages between obese and non-obese workers.  Our data allows us to investigate if developing one of these conditions has an immediate impact on wages or if there is possibly a delayed effect. 

This paper sheds additional light on both the productivity related and non-productivity related penalties of obesity.  Employers and public policy makers wishing to both support workers and reduce costs need a better understanding of the impact of obesity on employment.

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