Posted by Bill Sandweg on 25 October 2021.
I don’t suppose it has ever been different over the course of human history, but our society is unequal. More and more research studies are “finding” that inequality makes a big difference in how healthy you are and how long you will live. When you think about it, the reasons are pretty obvious.
Where do you live? Your neighborhood plays a role in your health. Are there green spaces nearby? If there are, that is a positive for health, even among communities of equal income. Higher income people usually live in better neighborhoods with more amenities than do those with lower incomes.
Are there grocery stores near where you live? Do they sell healthy foods or mostly processed foods and snacks? Income is often closely related to diet. People in lower socioeconomic situations don’t usually have the same access to healthy foods as do their more fortunate fellow citizens. The poor eat more processed food, which is generally less healthy.
What did your parents feed you when you were a child? The food choices made for you by your parents will have a big impact on your life going forward. Childhood obesity is on the rise and, when a child is obese, it is highly unlikely he or she will lose the weight as an adult and adopt a healthier lifestyle.
What is your education level? People born to higher income families usually get more education than poorer people who may not be able to afford college, or be able to take the time away from supporting themselves or their families to go to college. Studies have shown over and over a strong correlation between education levels and better health. The better educated are less likely to smoke and are more likely to live in good neighborhoods and to have an active lifestyle. All of these are things that lead to better health.
How long and well do you sleep? Recent studies have shown that the poor sleep fewer hours and sleep less well when they do sleep than those higher up the economic ladder. Some explanations are the need to work more than one job, financial stresses disturbing sleep, and the stress of having a life in which you don’t have much control. Poor sleep leads to poor health outcomes.
All this goes to show that there are underlying causes for a lot of poor health in this country. The socioeconomic position into which a person is born is important but it does not create an immutable destiny. Individuals can make changes and escape what might otherwise have been a poor health outcome. It isn’t easy, but it can be done. In the meantime, we need to continue to do what we can to make society a fairer place.