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SPH Brown Bag Research Presentation: Why Does My Back Hurt? National Estimates of the Causal Effect of Sudden Changes in Psychological Distress on the Prevalence of Low Back Pain

Seminar | September 20 | 12-1 p.m. | 5101 Berkeley Way West


Timothy Brown, Associate Adjunct Professor, School of Public Health

Public Health, School of


​Timothy Brown, PhD, is Associate Adjunct Professor of Health Economics in the Division of Health Policy and Management in the School of Public Health and also the Associate Director for Research at the Berkeley Center for Health Technology. The ​work presented is from the ​current paper co-authored by students in Dr. Brown’s MPH course, PH231A Analytic Methods for Health Policy and Management.

Dr. Brown will discuss the causal effect of a reduction in psychological distress on the prevalence of low back pain in the US using 9 years of repeated cross-sectional data from the National Health Interview Survey (1997-2005). Current neurobiological understanding, based on human experimental data, suggests that pain is intrinsically tied to emotional status. His work presents a fuzzy regression discontinuity model that uses a closely timed set of exogenous events, occurring shortly after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack, which would be expected to reduce psychological distress and, in turn, reduce the prevalence of low back pain in the US. He finds close to a 1:1 relationship between the reduction in moderate-to-severe psychological distress and a reduction in the prevalence of low back pain, a relationship that cannot be explained by changes in employment, health insurance, or general health status, none of which exhibit discontinuities during the period examined.


lhg@berkeley.edu