The economies of developed nations such as the UK benefit from the good health of their citizens, it has been claimed.
A pan-European study published today in the British Medical Journal says that healthier employees are more productive at work and are less likely to take early retirement.
Analysis of data in the ten years prior to 1980 in Britain and ten other industrialised nations shows that high public health levels boosted the countries' respective economies by as much as a third.
The researchers, from the World Health Organisation; London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; and the Centre for European Policy Studies, say that this is the first time "substantial and consistent" evidence has been produced showing the beneficial effect of good health in rich countries' economies.
Although the authors admit that their results could be subject to "methodological problems", they claim the "overwhelming conclusion is that good health has benefits beyond the individual".
The researchers write: "Our study confirmed the importance of investment in better health as a means of promoting economic development but says less about what this investment should involve. Debate is ongoing about the role of government in promoting health.
"Nevertheless, many of the people who advocate much greater individual responsibility view governments as having a legitimate role in creating the conditions that favour economic development.
"The true purpose of economic activity is to maximise social welfare and not simply to produce more goods and services," they add.