Economics is a field that remains difficult to grasp even for many adults, but it’s vital for students to understand how financial concerns affect policy and problem solving. The five articles collected below explore economic questions related to concrete health and environmental issues.
We’ve organized the descriptions in order of decreasing reading level with notes about scientific methods and types of data figures. As always, each of our adaptations is accompanied by at least one video to introduce the topic and questions to check students’ understanding after reading.
The rise of obesity has long been in the public eye, and high school students will likely be familiar with the fact that highly processed foods are energy dense but low in nutrients. In this article, students will consider whether a tax on such foods could have an effect on obesity rates, especially in poorer countries where food security and underweight is also a problem for many people in poverty. Scientists used import tariffs as a measurement tool and created a statistical model which demonstrated that increasing the price difference between healthier foods and highly processed foods could be a useful step toward reducing obesity in some countries. However, it could also worsen the issue with underweight, sometimes even within the same country. The policy analysis is accompanied by data tables and a pictograph.
Most high school students have experience with a pregnant family member or acquaintance and may have themselves taken some kind of vitamin or supplement. So they may well be saddened to learn that deficiencies in some vital nutrients during pregnancy are very common in women in low-income countries and can lead to birth complications such as preterm births, low birth weight, and infant mortality. Fortunately, governments usually provide pregnant women with two important micronutrients – iron and folic acid. But there are other vital micronutrients as well, and consuming supplements with them improves women’s health and birth outcomes. Of course, these tablets cost more, so in this article, students will consider: are they worth it? Scientists created a mathematical model using demographic data from Bangladesh and Burkina Faso (shown on a map) to estimate the benefits and costs of replacing iron and folic acid tablets with multiple micronutrient tablets in these two countries. The results of this policy analysis, presented in two data tables, show that such a switch could cost-effectively reduce birth complications and life-long disabilities, and save thousands of lives each year.
Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) are annoying insects who have reappeared in the US and worldwide in recent decades. Their hardiness and ability to avoid hide has made them hard to eliminate. High school students may even have prior personal experience with them. Some states in the US have tried to control bed bugs (and diseases they may carry) by introducing disclosure policies in which landlords must notify potential tenants of current or past bed bug infestations in their property. Students might assume at first that this would naturally be detrimental to landlords, as tenants will prefer to avoid infested apartments. As they follow the scientists’ progress through two mathematical models (one to estimate the spread of bed bugs, the other the financial impact of bed bug disclosure policies on landlords over time), they will learn that while the cost of disclosure is high at first, after a few years, landlords experience savings as the prevalence of bed bugs decreases. A pictogram and a histogram illustrate the models’ results.
Climate and environmental activists, including teens like Greta Thunberg, have been vocal about the importance of putting a higher price on the use of resources that impact the planet’s ability to sustain humanity in the future. High school students are going to be faced with the difficulty of decisions related to sustainability. For over 100 years, scientists and economists have struggled to figure out how much money our natural resources are worth when left in place in Nature. In this article, scientists created a new formula to measure this, building their mathematical model on previous work in economics. In order to illustrate it, they investigated a case study in western Kansas: an agricultural area that grows crops using groundwater from the High Plains Aquifer (illustrated on a map). Students are invited to think of the aquifer like a bank account from which Kansas pulled money (in terms of water resources) over a period of 10 years. They may be shocked to learn that the total came to $110 million per year, which is more than twice the amount Kansas spent on schools in that time! The article also presents a line graph to illustrate the relationship between a new nozzle technology and the level of water in the aquifer, with a note about correlation vs. causation.
Do your students like to eat fish? Do they recognize the importance of the ocean in terms of both food security and water resources? Unfortunately, seafood business practices like overfishing and unsustainable aquaculture (fish farming) pose threats to the long-term health of the ocean and the creatures in it. Some scientists decided to approach big businesses to see how they could work together to benefit ocean life and the seafood trade: scientists sharing their scientific knowledge and the companies then acting to improve sustainability and protect the ocean. Both middle and high school students can consider how this case study of a science-business partnership might inspire similar stewardship efforts to protect the environment where businesses operate and also question what they might do personally to challenge the threats facing our ocean.
That’s Not All!
Our site offers hundreds of scientific articles suitable for students at middle- and high-school reading levels, too. Everything is free to download! Just use the filter to find the ones you need.