There is a substantial relationship between poverty and health. Long-term poverty and economic insecurity have broad-reaching long-term ill- health consequences. In addition to creating stress, which causes a myriad of health problems, poverty also results in low levels of sanity, high incidences of infectious disease and mental health issues.

Prime indicators that poverty directly affects health are life expectancy, prevalence of chronic or communicable diseases, behavioral and self-control issues and high levels of long-term stress. Long-term poverty imposes a huge burden of stress on the impoverished. The hardships of finding permanent work, taking care of children, finding affordable food and clean water can all take an enormous toll on physical and mental health.

Long-term stress also creates hormones that compromise the immune system, opening the door for communicable diseases. Women who experience high levels of stress during pregnancy are more probable to have children who are predisposed to developing diabetes.

Children are especially susceptible to the health consequences of poverty. Bernard Fuemmeler, associate professor in Community and Family Medicine at Duke University School of Medicine, says that “poverty during childhood not only appears to affect child development, but can have lasting effects on the types of health choices made during adolescence and early adulthood.” His research finds that economic insecurity in the home during childhood can permanently affect the way people make decisions and their ability to self-regulate.

Urban poverty is characterized by crowded, unsanitary conditions that lead to higher incidences of communicable disease. Transmission becomes very easy for highly-infectious diseases the closer people are to one another. Dirty water, unclean food and cook spaces and improper waste disposal are common in crowded areas.

Poor countries as well have high public health obstacles to overcome. Lack of funding, stigma and myth, bureaucratic complications and limited infrastructure all contribute to a reduction in capacity to deal with health crises and public health issues. Low access to vaccines and medication is a particular public health nightmare for poor countries because it creates not only drug resistance but also black markets for hard-to-get medicine.

– Caitlin Huber

Sources: Think Progress, News-Medical, Jama Network, NAS, UN, Wisconsin-Madison
Photo: TIME

Although the United States ranks among one of the richest nations in the world, poverty persists throughout the country. However, in the midst of the plenty, defining American poverty is an arduous task. When brand new model cars and upscale mansions dot city streets and suburbs, what exactly constitutes as poverty in the land of the rich and free?

According to the Institute for Research on Poverty, the federal poverty guideline (with the exception of Alaska and Hawaii) for a household in 2013 consisting of one individual is $11,490, while the threshold for a family of four is $23,550. The national poverty lines delineated by the federal government were initiated after the work of Mollie Orshansky, a statistician who worked with the Social Security System in the 1960’s.

Orshansky calculated the poverty level by estimating the average proportion of income that a family sets aside for groceries in conjunction with the average standard of living. Since the cost of food changes from year to year along with the socially-acceptable standard of living, the federal government adjusts Orshansky’s formula for calculating the annual poverty line by accounting for inflation.

Poverty guidelines provide the minimum income level in order to ascertain eligibility for federal poverty assistance programs such as Head Start for education, Food Stamps for sustenance, the National School Lunch Program for nutrition, and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program for energy costs. However, other programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families do not implement poverty guidelines when determining an individual’s or a family’s eligibility.

However, according to a 2007 Gallup poll, many Americans agree that $23,550 is not a sufficient measure of poverty for a family of four. According to Orshansky’s measure of poverty, the poverty guideline for a family of four today, should actually amount to $41,000, meaning that with current poverty guidelines, many Americans who are classified as above the poverty line are actually near or within poverty, but, by government standards, fail to quality for many assistance programs.

Despite government-initiated assistance programs, for the second consecutive year, the U.S. poverty rate hovered at 15 percent in 2013 according to a report released by the U.S. Census Bureau, meaning that between 2012 and 2013, little progress at had been made in providing adequate relief for the estimated 46.5 million impoverished Americans. Quite dismayingly, roughly 34 percent (16 million) of the individuals living in poverty in the United States are children. Therefore, the poverty line must be recalibrated and reflect the true costs of living in America in order to initiate a substantial decline in the federal poverty rate.

Phoebe Pradhan

Sources: Huffington Post, ASPE