Small businesses yield better health, study finds

By Linda Wilkins
Staff Writer

Small businesses may be what communities need in order to have healthier populations, according to a study done by two Baylor professors and a Louisiana State University professor.

Dr. Carson Mencken and Dr. Charles Tolbert, Baylor professors of sociology, along with Dr. Troy Blanchard, associate professor of sociology at LSU, conducted a study that examines the relationship between small businesses and the health of people in their community.

“It was the first study to show that small businesses are healthier for the growth of a population,” Mencken said.

The researchers found the growth of small-businesses might produce positive results in the health of the residents in the community, Blanchard said.

The researchers used data from several different national databases and examined the relationship between the sizes of businesses in a community (small or large) and the health percentages of the community.

Mencken said there are many theses regarding the growth of big businesses and the relationship to the health of local populations. The professors were attempting to test the hypothesis that small businesses lead to healthier local populations than big businesses.

Blanchard said the health of a community is part of its growth and that there are different ways a community can grow and become stable. He said the first way is attracting large businesses from outside the community. “This approach is common, and we know it tends to yield positive benefits,” Blanchard said.

The second way of growing a community is by stimulating small business growth and allowing small businesses to be successful, he said.

With this method, Blanchard said it is often hard to see how it affects local residents because small businesses are not usually expected to improve the health of the population.

“Most people assume small locally owned businesses cannot provide health stability,” Mencken said. “We showed the opposite.”

The goal of the study was to understand how small businesses have added benefits over big businesses.

“The big places come and go; the small places commit to the community,” Mencken said, regarding the conclusion of their study. “A more grounded approach can be better for long-term growth.” The commitment to the community is what helps people become healthier, Mencken said.

The study found the mortality rates, the rate of diabetes and the obesity rates of populations surrounded by a variety of small businesses were lower than those surrounded by large businesses, Blanchard said.

In a press release, Tolbert said small businesses have an attitude of determination and take “a practical problem-solving approach in which a community takes control of its own destiny.”

The hypothesis the researchers studied was established on the idea small businesses, unlike large businesses, have more invested in a community and have more at stake concerning customers, employees, and others, according to the press release. The release also said local businesses are more likely to support bond issues for health infrastructures, recruit physicians, push for local anti-smoking legislation, promote community health programs and activities and support local farmers’ markets. To conduct the study, the professors studied the data provided by the 2000 Census of Population and Housing, the 2007 Centers for Disease Control Obesity and Diabetes Estimates, National Center for Health Statistics Compressed Mortality records from 1994-2006, the 2002 County Business Patterns and the 2002 Nonemployer Statistics.