Much like the novel coronavirus, poverty is a global issue. In fact, nearly half of the global population, some 3.5 billion people, lives in low-income or low-middle-income countries, according to researchers. This sobering fact paints a striking picture of modern life, where even in developed nations, poverty is widespread.
Unlike the modern COVID-19 pandemic, however, poverty has deep historical roots. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines social determinants of health, or SDH, as the “conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age.” The systems, forces, and programs in place in one’s country of residence, such as the Affordable Care Act in the U.S., are also part of an individual’s SDH.
No matter where you reside, your socioeconomic status likely plays a major role in regards to your overall health, and that of your family. Factors such as food insecurity, suboptimal housing, and a lack of access to healthcare can reduce both your lifespan and quality of life.
And make no mistake: Poverty and poor health are so deeply intertwined that they can effectively create a perpetual cycle where each exacerbates the other, to the detriment of global public health. The continued pandemic only serves to further complicate the situation.
Socioeconomic status & your health
While your socioeconomic status is directly tied to income, the concept is multifaceted and complex. Those in a higher income bracket, who earn well beyond what’s considered a living wage, typically experience inequitable access to various resources and social opportunities, from higher education to healthcare. Your geographic location, marital status, and occupation help further determine your socioeconomic status, and by default, your overall health.
The connections between socioeconomic status and public health have become even more apparent in the midst of COVID-19. Various data indicates that communities of colorand other marginalized populations are disproportionately affected by the novel coronavirus – ndeedmortality and hospitalization rates are “exceedingly higher for Black and Latinx patients than white patients,” reports USC’s Keck School of Medicine.
Long-standing systemic health and social inequities, primarily based on race, gender, and class, are at the heart of the matter. As long as systemic inequality exists, we can expect those living below the poverty line to be less healthy than those in higher income brackets.
Prevalence of poverty in the U.S.
As far as public health is concerned, it would be a mistake to assume that developed nations have a leg up over lower-income countries. Marginalized populations in countries such as the U.S. remain woefully underinsured, and many lack health coverage altogether. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that, as of 2018, about 27.5 million Americans are without health insurance, an amount that equals some 8.5% of the total population.
The U.S. poverty rate hovers just above those numbers at 11.8%, deftly illustrating the connection between poverty and inadequate healthcare. Further exacerbating the issue is the prevalence of food deserts in marginalized communities. Poor diets and a lack of access to healthful foods, which are the primary identifiers of food deserts, have myriad negative health effects. If you live in a food desert, you’re more likely to be obese, as well as more susceptible to diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and more.
Thus, in an effort to improve the health of marginalized communities, food justice advocates around the nation are working to break down food access barriers. Food justice involves learning to eat well on a budget, as well as how to prepare nutritious meals for the entire family. And where public health is concerned, improving food justice and increasing access to healthy foods, in every neighborhood, is just the beginning.
Making healthcare more accessible
In a world in which “COVID” has become a household name affecting billions of people, closing the global healthcare access gap has become a crucial endeavor. Even for those who have basic healthcare coverage, medical costs and co-pays can be overwhelming. Countless individuals overlook or outright ignore health issues in order to avoid going into medical debt.
The problem is a pervasive one: An estimated 79 million Americans are struggling with some type of medical debt, and there is often little recourse available to those living in poverty. If you find yourself under the strain of medical debt, you may be able to negotiate a payment plan, or apply for medical debt forgiveness. Keep in mind that the application process can be overwhelming, especially for those individuals who lack consistent internet access and similar resources.
Poverty involves much more than simple income disparity. Around the world, those living in poverty are generally less healthy than their higher-income neighbors, due to various factors including lack of healthy food access and little to no health coverage. Improving the health of global citizens from all walks of life thus hinges on the eradication of poverty, and ensuring greater access to healthcare, no matter one’s global location or socioeconomic status.