There is a strong body of research supporting thelink between poverty and poor health outcomes. Individuals living in povertyface a number of barriers to achieving their full health potential, as well asbarriers to accessing health care at all. When viewing health as a whole, it isimportant to consider social determinants of health such as income inequality,job security, working conditions, and food security, as these factors have beenshown to have stronger effects on health than behavioural factors such asphysical activity or tobacco use (Raphael, 2006).
Firstly, there are some seemingly more obvious waysin which poverty–specifically direct material deprivation–can impact health.Having an income allows individuals to purchase enough quality food, have aroof over their heads, access transportation, engage in educationopportunities, and more. It is difficult, if not impossible, for someone toachieve optimum health without these basic necessities. For example, nutritionaldeficiencies can lead to a variety of short-term and long-term health problems.Lastly, a lack of money may put individuals in a position where they havelimited choices, such as finding affordable housing or child care, or have tomake difficult choices, such putting their own health at risk so that they canpay rent or feed their children.
Further, having access to material resources canprovide a sense of emotional and physical safety, which promotes health andwellbeing (Doane andVarcoe, ___). Individuals livingin poverty in turn face more stress and social isolation, which can strain andexhaust the body, leading to poorer health outcomes. For example, the stressfulexperiences that arise from coping with food insecurity, insecure employment,and housing conditions.
In addition, people who are experiencing chronic stressmay attempt to relieve those pressures through damaging coping behaviours suchas alcohol use or smoking. More specific to children, such as those we may workwith in the Strong Start, studies have shown that family income is a keydeterminant of health. This is particularly important because health inchildhood sets the stage for future health and development (____), andinequities in health are cumulative over time (Lynam, Scott, & Wong,2011). Children who come from low-incomefamilies may struggle to focus and learn in school without adequate nutritionor stable housing to get a good sleep at night. Inadequate living conditionscan also pose other physical and emotional health risks, such as exposure tomold, risk of fires, noise levels, overcrowding which contributes to spread ofdisease, etc.
Barriers to accessing healthcare There are inequitiesin access to resources for appropriate health and health care, which are especiallypronounced for people who are impoverished. Poverty also createsbarriers to accessing healthcare. There are structural barriers–for example, clinicsare at a distance, or not having a primary health care provider. There are alsosocial barriers, such as individuals feeling “pre-judged” by health carepractitioners (Lynam, Scott, & Wong, 2011); feeling criticized for theirhealth decisions or put under a microscope.
These barriers can lead people to access health servicesless often, which has consequences for their health. Lower education opportunities: People living in poverty may have fewereducational opportunities. Tangent: Lastly, while this may be a bit of a tangent, whenthinking about how poverty impacts health, I also can’t help but think abouthow taken-for-granted privileges influence many Western views of health. Forexample, fad health trends, movements such as “clean eating,” or even a generalfocus on “healthy eating and physical activity,” are only accessible toindividuals who can afford to buy into such trends. This furthers an “us” vs.
“them” dichotomy, where individuals who can purchase certain foods (e.g.organic or ethically raised foods) hold themselves on a moral high ground. Thesekinds of health agendas are a classist phenomenon, and we need to pay attentionto the larger social forces at play.