Dr. M. Harvey Brenner

Distinguished Professor of Public Health

Dr. Brenner retired on July 10th, 2020. He can be contacted at : MHarveyBrenner@my.unthsc.edu


Dr. M. Harvey Brenner

Education & Experience:
My PhD is in Medical Sociology from Yale University, and I received my Bachelor’s degree from the City University of New York with honors in economics and history. I am a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

I have been Professor and Chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, UNT Health Science Center (2005 – 2008) and Professor within that department (2008-2010), then served as Professor in the UNTHSC Department of Behavioral and Community Health, and now as Professor in the school’s Department of Health Behavior and Health Systems. I have also served as Professor of Health Policy and Management at Johns Hopkins University (1979 to present), serving asProfessor Emeritus since 2005, and as Professor and Chair of Epidemiology, Institute for Health Sciences, Berlin University of Technology, Germany, from 1997 to 2005. I am currently a Fellow in the Institute for Patient Safety. I have been Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health in the Yale School of Medicine and Yale Department of Sociology (1967-1973), and have held several visiting professorships at institutions including Yale, Harvard, the Berlin University of Technology and the Medical University of Hannover, Germany.

Teaching Areas & Public Health Interests:
I have been teaching courses on Global Health and Health Disparities at the UNTHSC School of Public Health. With colleagues at the UNTHSC School of Public Health, I have also designed curriculum for a Certificate Program in Global Health for university students and outside professionals.

My early work on the impact of economic change on mental disorder has served as the basis for the epidemiological field of unemployment and psychological ill health. In recent decades, epidemiological research has increasingly demonstrated the importance of socioeconomic factors on mortality, for nearly all causes of death, and regardless of age and sex. Expanding these individual-level analyses, my research over 35 years, at the national level, has given evidence of the impact of economic change on mortality patterns over time. These national-level studies have shown that changes in population socioeconomic status are heavily responsible for national mortality trends and fluctuations. This work has contributed to the literature on socioeconomic indicators on health. It has been applied to states, regions and cities of the U.S., as well as highly developed and developing countries. This has been the basis of my work in statistical modelling of life expectancy and mortality for samples of world societies, and in industrialized and developing countries. The key explanatory factors have been economic growth, health expenditures, education, employment, CO2 emissions and fertility.

My ecological models of U.S. mortality have led to a patent in which the algorithm is now being applied to U.S. hospitals with a focus on patient safety and reduction of in-patient mortality.

Professional Activities & Awards:
In 1997, I received the career “Award for Excellence” for 25 years of scientific and policy research on the impact of the national economy on health by the American Public Health Association.

I have served as a consultant and given expert testimony to several U.S. Congressional and Senate Committees, the U.S. Department of Labor and the CDC, most recently testifying on energy and health implications for the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Internationally, I have served as a consultant to the World Health Organization (WHO) European Region and to the WHO Geneva Mental Health division, as well as the WHO Office on Occupational and Environmental Health, Bonn, Germany. I testified and have been a consultant to the Parliaments of the United Kingdom, Sweden and to the Ministries of Health of Finland, Norway, Spain and Mexico.

Recently, I co-organized, with Dr. Nico Rizzo, panels at the APHA annual meeting on the “Impact of the Great Recession on Heart Disease, Cancer and Stroke Mortality and Psychological Illness: Effects of Unemployment, Income and Health Expenditures” (2015) and on “Public Health Perspectives on Fuel Combustion, Climate Change and Health: Established Facts and New Discoveries” (2016). In March 2018, I was a plenary speaker at 9th Annual Conference of the Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH) on the topic of Overcoming Disparities to Healthy Aging.

Scholarly Interests:
I have been a principal contributor to the early research on the health impact of the economy since the 1970s. This area of work began with the book Mental Illness and the Economy, Harvard University Press, 1973, in which the basic relation between national economic loss, unemployment and mental disorder was observed over the time period of 1841 to 1967 in New York State. I conducted two further studies for the United States Congress Joint Economic Committee in 1975 and 1984 that showed similar relations where increases in mortality, cardiovascular disease, suicide, homicide and cirrhosis were inversely related to the GDP and positively to the unemployment rate in the United States from the 1930s to the early 1980s. My article in the Lancet, 1979, demonstrated this relation for the first time in England and Wales, and thus for Europe. These studies were replicated with data from my studies for Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Australia and New Zealand from the 1950s to the 1990s. These studies of the health implications of instability in the economic system have been the basis of simulations used in the formulation of national health and employment policy in the United States, European Union and the World Health Organization.

Within the United States, I have done the major work on the impact of the economy on physical and mental health for the United States Congress Joint Economic Committee. I have also pioneered the field of simultaneous spatial and temporal analysis of the impact of income and employment on health.

I have performed analyses on the impact of economic development, and specifically unemployment, in major studies of U.S. states funded by the Ford Foundation, the U.S. Department of Labor and the National Institute on Aging. I also have been responsible for analyses of the impact on mortality, of alcohol and tobacco consumption, socio-economic status and employment patterns, in studies funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. I have also published major studies of the impact of economic and social factors on health and mortality in studies for the European Commission, most recently a study on duration of unemployment and self-perceived health in Europe. This study is available at: http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=738&langId=en&pubId=7909&furtherPubs=yes

Over the last decade, I have devoted most of my research efforts to factors that account for international differences in illness and mortality patterns. With the focus on industrialized countries, I developed the first models of the impact of the Great Recession on suicide in 33 countries, including the U.S. and Europe. This study, “Profound Unhappiness in the International Recession: The Case of Suicide in Industrialized Countries,” is published in a Wiley volume edited in 2012 by the mathematical economics Nobel prize winner Dr. Lawrence Klein. This has been followed by the first models of the impact of the 2008 recession on heart disease, stroke and cancer in the industrialized world, funded by the European Union (EU), available at: http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=738&langId=en&pubId=7909&furtherPubs=yes

I also directed the largest multi-country epidemiological study funded by the EU, on the effects of the Recession on company downsizing and subsequent mental and physical health. This study took place in four countries, the UK, France, Hungary and Sweden; the results were that not only those who became unemployed, but also the survivors, suffered considerable depression, alcohol problems and other health damage. The study, “Organizational Downsizing and Depressive Symptoms in the European Recession: The Experience of Workers in France, Hungary, Sweden and the United Kingdom” is published in PLOS ONE 9 (5), 2014), 1-14: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0097063

I have published on the impact of world military expenditures on global cardiovascular mortality (Journal of Public Health Policy, 2016 Febr; 37 (1):20-35). This research demonstrates the opportunity costs of shifting government spending to military purposes as compared to health, education and welfare.

Recently, I have developed analyses of the effects of national health expenditures on reducing heart disease, cancer and stroke mortality in the United States and Europe, taking account of the health-damaging effects of the Great Recession. I proposed and analyzed new findings on the impact of the international recession and austerity measures on mental health, especially suicide, in my chapter contribution, “Social class and mental health: The impact of international recession and austerity,” to the newly published Oxford Textbook of Public Mental Health. This chapter highlights the reciprocal relationship between social class and mental health and examines the detrimental effects of recessions and economic inequality on psychological health, addictions and unintentional accidents.

I am also currently completing a book contract with Oxford University Press on the impact of the world economy on global health. This covers my work over the last 10 years on the contributions of sustainable economic growth, health expenditures, education, climate change and fertility to improving world life expectancy. Central to the issue of sustainable economic growth is the issue of innovation along with the evolution of knowledge. I had the opportunity to explore the significance of small networks for the evolution of knowledge and species longevity in a recent article by Chaos, Solitons & Fractals: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960077917303570?via%3Dihub

Recently, I published an editorial for the American Journal of Public Health on “Years-of-Life-Lost, Age Discrimination, and the Myth of Productivity,” which dispels the myth that older workers, and the elderly in general, are of less value to society as compared to younger persons: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5607694/

I am currently involved in studies of patient safety, based on a patented algorithm for U.S. mortality. The socioeconomic elements of the algorithm, indicating patient and outpatient provider economic sources, stem from a model of U.S. population and hospital mortality in the last decade.

Link to Dr. Brenner’s Curriculum Vitae:

Link to Dr. Brenner’s University Profile:


This page was last modified on July 20, 2020