There is a strong body of research supporting the
link between poverty and poor health outcomes. Individuals living in poverty
face a number of barriers to achieving their full health potential, as well as
barriers to accessing health care at all. When viewing health as a whole, it is
important to consider social determinants of health such as income inequality,
job security, working conditions, and food security, as these factors have been
shown to have stronger effects on health than behavioural factors such as
physical activity or tobacco use (Raphael, 2006).
Firstly, there are some seemingly more obvious ways
in which poverty–specifically direct material deprivation–can impact health.
Having an income allows individuals to purchase enough quality food, have a
roof over their heads, access transportation, engage in education
opportunities, and more. It is difficult, if not impossible, for someone to
achieve optimum health without these basic necessities. For example, nutritional
deficiencies 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 have
limited choices, such as finding affordable housing or child care, or have to
make difficult choices, such putting their own health at risk so that they can
pay rent or feed their children.
Further, having access to material resources can
provide a sense of emotional and physical safety, which promotes health and
wellbeing (Doane and
Varcoe, ___). Individuals living
in poverty in turn face more stress and social isolation, which can strain and
exhaust the body, leading to poorer health outcomes. For example, the stressful
experiences that arise from coping with food insecurity, insecure employment,
and housing conditions. In addition, people who are experiencing chronic stress
may attempt to relieve those pressures through damaging coping behaviours such
as alcohol use or smoking.
More specific to children, such as those we may work
with in the Strong Start, studies have shown that family income is a key
determinant of health. This is particularly important because health in
childhood sets the stage for future health and development (____), and
inequities in health are cumulative over time (Lynam, Scott, & Wong,
2011). Children who come from low-income
families may struggle to focus and learn in school without adequate nutrition
or stable housing to get a good sleep at night. Inadequate living conditions
can also pose other physical and emotional health risks, such as exposure to
mold, risk of fires, noise levels, overcrowding which contributes to spread of
Barriers to accessing healthcare
There are inequities
in access to resources for appropriate health and health care, which are especially
pronounced for people who are impoverished. Poverty also creates
barriers to accessing healthcare. There are structural barriers–for example, clinics
are at a distance, or not having a primary health care provider. There are also
social barriers, such as individuals feeling “pre-judged” by health care
practitioners (Lynam, Scott, & Wong, 2011); feeling criticized for their
health decisions or put under a microscope. These barriers can lead people to access health services
less often, which has consequences for their health.
Lower education opportunities:
People living in poverty may have fewer
Tangent: Lastly, while this may be a bit of a tangent, when
thinking about how poverty impacts health, I also can’t help but think about
how taken-for-granted privileges influence many Western views of health. For
example, fad health trends, movements such as “clean eating,” or even a general
focus on “healthy eating and physical activity,” are only accessible to
individuals 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. These
kinds of health agendas are a classist phenomenon, and we need to pay attention
to the larger social forces at play.