By Katie Brenneman
We’ve all heard the saying “health is wealth.” But what if it’s actually the other way around?
Research collected by the ASPE examines how financial inequality during the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the health and wellbeing of American citizens across income demographics.
While this research is sure to shed light on the issues that all Americans face, we already know that poverty is a social determinant for poor health. So, it should not be surprising to hear that a lower-income generally correlates with worse health outcomes. There are plenty of reasons why this connection exists, and more research is needed before we can make any definitive claims.
However, there are a few well-studied examples of the connection between wealth and health. Here are a few of the big ones.
Our diet plays a significant role in determining our health and quality of life. However, recent research has found that folks from low socioeconomic status (low-SES) households were more likely to eat foods that scored poorly on the USDA’s Healthy Eating Index. Specifically, low-SES households spent more of their grocery dollars on sugary drinks and frozen desserts, and less on vegetables and dairy products.
However, what is not clear is why low-SES households purchase fewer “healthy” foods. The above study was adjusted for education, marital status, and race, which means that those factors did not play a significant role in the data. While further research is still being conducted, we might speculate that low-SES households are more likely to be subjected to food deserts, and choose long-lasting goods over perishable, expensive foods which need to be replaced every week.
Additionally, low-SES houses may be more likely to suffer from poor water quality at home. This is a serious issue, as water quality plays a vital role in maintaining health. Poor-quality water may spread bacterial infections, and lead to a “chalky” taste which puts people off from drinking water. This harms an individual’s hydration and can lead to a lack of focus and other poor health outcomes.
Medical Emergency Expenses
According to data collected by United Healthcare, the average cost of a trip to the ER is $2,200. In a time where savings have been wiped out for the poorest of households, this bill is simply unimaginable. As such, it should be little surprise that those who suffer from financial insecurities are hesitant to visit a healthcare provider even when they need treatment.
Even for folks who are adept at personal accounting, and have strong budgeting and saving skills, paying for emergency expenses represents a major source of stress and worry. This simply compounds health issues amongst low-SES income households, as stress is widely proven to be a leading cause of serious health issues in America.
Unfortunately, the trend towards forgoing a medical procedure on the grounds of costs is increasing. A recent Gallup poll found that 25% of Americans have either put off a serious procedure based on cost or know a family member who has. This kind of behavior is not normal among the citizens of developed nations, and points towards a deeper issue embedded in America’s current healthcare system.
The duration and quality of our sleep both play a major role in our overall health. That’s because sleep is the time when our body recovers and “takes out the trash.” Without adequate deep sleep, it is almost impossible to live a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Those who don’t sleep enough are also more likely to suffer from conditions like diabetes, Alzheimers, stroke, and obesity.
However, in the US there is a major “sleep gap.” Minorities and those suffering from financial insecurity are more likely to have poor sleep habits that are caused by environmental or cultural contexts. For example, the burden of financial stress is likely to keep folks up at night, and living in poorer, noisier households makes it difficult to get a good night’s sleep.
Poor sleep, inadequate nutrition, and the overwhelming cost of healthcare all contribute to worsening health outcomes for all Americans. However, these factors disproportionately affect poor Americans, who are less likely to purchase healthy foods and are kept awake at night by financial stress or a noisy environment. As we exit the pandemic a more holistic, people-driven, solution to equitable healthcare must be found.
Katie Brenneman is a passionate writer specializing in lifestyle, mental health, and activism-related content. When she isn’t writing, you can find her with her nose buried in a book or hiking with her dog, Charlie. To connect with Katie, you can follow her on Twitter.