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The Effects of Poverty on Health - Perspectives of an 8th-Grader

My eighth-grade daughter had an assignment to research and write a persuasive essay about a current controversial topic. She chose to look into the effects of poverty on a person’s health. She has obviously picked up on some of the things I’ve talked about when starting this company, but I was impressed as she started researching things and sending me articles and websites that I hadn’t seen before. So, I told her that I would share her perspective in one of my blogs. I hope she will continue to challenge everyone to look at things in a different light. The content below has been edited to fit, but is based on the essay by Jaycie Studer and reflects her 14-yr old perspective on this topic:

Poverty can be a cause of bad health and people can become unhealthy just based on their circumstances. Peter Cunningham with the CommonWealth Fund stated, ”We found that even relatively healthy lower-income people — those who earn 200% or less of the federal poverty level (FPL), or about $24,000 or less a year, and have fewer than three chronic conditions and no functional limitations — have higher health risks, greater social needs, and worse access to care than relatively healthy moderate-income (200%–400% FPL) and higher-income (>400% FPL) people.”

For example, if you're living on the streets, you are exposed to a lot of exhaust, which makes you have a higher risk for developing severe asthma. Asthma may not be the worst disease, but when you can’t afford any medications, it can just progress. Anda Kuo, MD, founding director of Pediatric Leadership for the Underserved at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) stated, “The mom may not have a job that lets her leave to take care of her child. She has to deal with health insurance, accessing specialists, and getting and affording medications.” This shows that not everyone has access to easy and affordable healthcare. There are a lot of factors that play into getting medications when you live in poverty. Even if the mom is able to leave work, she may go unpaid during that time, and not make enough money to support herself and her kids.

People can also become sick/unhealthy just based on their address when living in poverty. One example of this would be obesity. A person may not feel safe enough to take a walk in their neighborhood, or there may not be many sidewalks or open park areas to exercise. This can lead to higher obesity rates. The CommonWealth Fund analyzed the 2014-2016 National Health Interview Survey and found 36% of low-income adults claimed to be obese, compared to 28% in higher-income adults. This survey also concluded that 21% of adults in the low-income range feel that it is unsafe to walk near home.

Stress in poverty is also another big factor that can cause diseases. Nancy Adler, PhD, director of the Center for Health and Community at UCSF says, “People who have a continually heightened response to stress can acquire an allostatic load – wear and tear on the body caused by stress – that permanently throws off their endocrine system and causes it to overproduce cortisol. Their cortisol level goes up and doesn’t come down, putting them at lifelong risk of cardiovascular disease.” This shows that even the everyday stress that you have in poverty, could give you cardiovascular disease, which could eventually be fatal.

So, what can we do to help? Have you ever noticed a patient that comes into the hospital all of the time for different things? These things could be costing your hospital a bunch of money, and they could maybe even be prevented. People living in poverty may not have stable housing, or might not have housing at all. Doctors at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital came up with a way to help. After finding out that a lot of the recurrent patients didn’t have stable housing, their hospital did something about it. “This led the hospital to develop a respite-care program involving short-term housing for homeless persons who are either recovering from a hospitalization or receiving medical care for a condition that renders them too ill to live on the street or in a shelter.” Even though this could cost the hospital some money to run this program, it could save them and the patients money overall on unreimbursed medical supplies and medical bills. Programs like these help people in poverty to stay healthier.

If you don’t own a hospital or a big organization, you may think you can do nothing to help people in poverty. Even if it is just you, you can still do things to help! You can donate to organizations that provide services to people in poverty. Another thing you can do is just raise awareness. Most people know about poverty, but you can raise awareness to show that not all of the health issues they have are their fault. By doing this, you can help people understand the greater impact that poverty can have on someone’s health.

Thanks Jaycie for sharing your thoughts and being willing to learn more about these issues. I think we may have found a future achi employee!

About achi

achi is a holistic care management company that lowers overall expenses by actively engaging people and connecting them to organizations to address the social determinants of health. Through innovative partnerships, cross-sector collaboration, and creative solutions, we equip organizations across multiple industries to educate the people they serve and connect them with resources to improve their lives from the ground up. By partnering with health systems, educational institutions and corporations, achi empowers lasting transformation in individual lives—resulting in an overall healthier population and data to transform our healthcare payment models. To learn more about achi and its mission, visit www.achi.solutions.

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