In low-income communities and impoverished towns across the country, health is a serious issue. There’s disease, obesity, poor nutrition, and serious illness – all at significantly higher rates than in middle and upper-class communities. The only question is, are there reasonable solutions to these problems?
The Connection Between Poverty and Poor Health
It isn’t just jobs and money that members of low-income communities find elusive as they move into adulthood. In many cases, good health is also difficult to come by. Research from countless studies over the years has suggested that Americans in poverty are far more likely to suffer from a variety of chronic health problems – including both physical and mental health issues.
“Poverty’s hash effects on health start before babies are born and pile up throughout their adult lives,” Lisa Esposito writes for U.S. News & World Report. “With stressed-filled homes, shaky nutrition, toxic environments and healthcare gaps of every kind, kids in very low-income families may never catch up when it comes to their health.”
First and foremost, poor health factors in low-income communities have an impact on quality of life. A Gallup report on the topic concluded that the share of adults in poverty with asthma (17.1 percent) and obesity (31.8 percent) is significantly higher than the share of adults not in poverty. People in impoverished communities are also more likely to deal with diabetes, heart attacks, and high blood pressure.
When it comes to mental health, the same Gallup report found that depression has the most significant gap between those in poverty and those not in poverty. While just 15.8 percent of individuals above the poverty line have been diagnosed with depression, nearly 31 percent of those living below the poverty line have.
Quality of life is just part of the story. According to findings published in one medical journal, the life expectancy between the poorest and richest individuals in the United States is between 10 and 15 years.
Whether people want to admit it or not, poverty is figuratively and quite literally a death sentence.
Discovering Solutions and Strategies
While there are hundreds of interconnected factors at play, the health disparities in low-income communities can ultimately be tied back to a lack of access. These neighborhoods simply don’t have access to the same health solutions, experts, and programs that members of upper and middle-class communities do. And while the effects may not be immediately obvious, the long-term ramifications are colossal.
There’s no magic pill that will solve all of the serious health issues in low-income communities, but disciplined solutions – implemented over many years – can make a significant difference. Here are some proposed ideas and strategies:
- More Accessible Health Experts
Knowledge is power. In most poor communities, there’s a serious lack of access to knowledgeable health experts – and we aren’t just talking about doctors. More community nutritionists in poor neighborhoods, for example, could make a big difference in how people view health-related issues.
“A community nutritionist is an expert in diet and nutrition who works to improve public nutritional habits instead of working one on one with individual clients,” explains an educational institution. “Often they develop programs and policies for institutions that improve nutrition, which can include developing meal plans based on needs, cost and culture, evaluating the impact of the program or policy and reporting the results.”
- Better Pediatric Care
Unfortunately, many people aren’t given the starts they need as infants and toddlers. As a result, they go on to suffer health issues and conditions that children in higher-income neighborhoods don’t have to confront nearly as often.
In order to change the system, low-income neighborhoods need access to quality pediatric care at a low-cost price point. It needs to be cheap, convenient, and effective in order for real change to occur.
- Access to Cheaper Healthy Food Options
One of the more alarming trends over the past decade and a half has been the mass exodus of major supermarkets and groceries from poor neighborhoods. Not wanting to deal with high crime rates and less lucrative customer bases, these stores move to higher-income neighborhoods and, unintentionally, leave poorer areas without options for food.
People in low-income areas often live in food deserts where they have nowhere to get fresh food, but have plenty of access to fast food. Naturally, hungry people with empty wallets turn to these establishments for their nutrition. The result is a whole host of long-term health issues.
Incentivizing low-cost supermarkets to return to these markets would provide low-income families with increased access to healthy food options. Combined with the right education on the topic, this could be a catalytic transition for public health.
Achieving a Healthy America
The goal isn’t to completely remove obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, and other diseases and conditions from low-income communities and impoverished neighborhoods – that’s an impossible feat. Instead, the objective is to shrink the disparity that exists between social classes. Money and socioeconomic status shouldn’t define a person’s health. We all have a right to enjoy the American Dream – and that begins with a healthy start to life.