The Health Economics and Policy seminar series is a great opportunity to listen to world leading health economics experts presenting their most recent work. Now half-way through, the series is organised by postdoctoral research fellow Osea Giuntella and Winnie Yip, professor of health policy and economics at the Blavatnik School of Government. 

Osea’s main research interests are labour, health and demographic economics. Explaining the idea for this seminar series, he said: “Health economics has broadened its scope well beyond the mere analysis of healthcare markets and cost-benefit of healthcare systems. We believe the Blavatnik School of Government can be a reference point for both policymakers and scholars interested in understanding the causes and consequences of the public health challenges of our time – like obesity, stress, quality and effectiveness of healthcare service delivery”.

The seminars touch upon very different topics, but they all share a strong economics angle on theory and methods and they are policy-oriented in the motivation and goals.

The latest seminar, ‘Are taquerias healthier than fast food restaurants?’ took place last week and was based on Osea’s recent research about the interaction between migration, food diversity and health gains from variety. “The idea is fairly simple. Immigrants, who are typically healthier in many countries are found to have better dietary habits than the average native. Thanks to them, the demand for healthy products and, more generally, the variety of food options in a given neighbourhood may increase. This may in turn increase the provision of products preferred by healthy natives who (before immigration) were simply not enough to create a market for variety and healthy options.”

To test this premise, Osea uses a unique data set merging administrative records on all pregnant mothers with a time-series of all the eating and drinking establishments, supermarkets and grocery stores existing in a certain area in a specified period of time. Osea continues: “Using variations in the food-environment across births of the same mother, I find that increased diversity reduces the likelihood of excessive weight-gain during pregnancy. Crucially, these effects are concentrated in low-income neighbourhoods and among disadvantaged groups.”

Osea’s current focus of research is on two main areas: firstly, the economics of risky behaviours and health disparities, and secondly the economics of immigration. His research tries to answer many questions, for example how migration affects the health trajectories of immigrants and what can be the effects of assimilation on the health of first and second-generation immigrants.