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“Understanding economics is crucial to effective Public Health practice,” and this is clearly depicted in the topic “Poverty and Income/Wealth Inequality”. The practices of public health are aimed at promoting health for the entire society. From an economic point of view, poverty and income inequality are closely linked to health and are among the key determinants of health in contemporary society. Considering the social determinants of health which include “addiction, food, the social gradient, transport, unemployment, stress, work, early life, social support and social exclusion (Wilkinson & Marmot, 2003)”, poverty and income inequality have been discussed to show how it is linked to them and how it impacts the poor and the marginalized populations.
To begin with, it is crucial to understand the topic of poverty and income inequality. Poverty indicates a situation of having inadequate material possessions or income for personal needs (Townsend, 2014). It encompasses the political, social, and economic elements. Income inequality describes a scenario where income or rather a wealth is concentrated in the hands of only a few individuals or a small population percentage (Killewald, Pfeffer & Schachner, 2017). It shows the gap that exists between the rich and the rest of society.
Poverty and income inequality have a direct link to the social determinants of health and highly impact the poor and marginalized populations in society (Marmot & Bell, 2012). Considering the social gradient, life expectancy ends up decreasing as we go down the social ladder. Social gradient as a social determinant of health cuts across the entire society. Even at the workplace, it is evident that the higher-ranking staff live longer than the lower-ranking staff. This is because the risk of serious illnesses increases as we move down the ladder. This is a clear indication that lower-class individuals have poor health due to poverty and income inequality as they cannot economically seek better health standards due to their low income (Pickett & Wilkinson, 2015). It, therefore, goes without saying that the poor and marginalized populations end up having poor health since they lack income for accessing better health due to income inequality in contemporary society.
Poverty and income inequality have a direct link with stress as a social determinant of health. The poor and marginalized society members end up living stressful lives (Gornick & Jäntti, 2014). Stressful circumstances cause poor mental health and may result in premature death since it is obvious that most poor people lack the means of coping with stress. The poor society members have inadequate income or nothing at all to cater for their daily needs and they suffer severely from stress; therefore, unless the economic part of the situation is addressed then the public health practices cannot succeed at all.
Poverty and income inequality affect the early life of individuals. The adult health foundations are most of the time determined by early childhood. Poverty and income inequality deprive better early lives for the poor and marginalized populations. Children born from poor backgrounds may lack proper maternal and child health due to a lack of sufficient income and may end up being disadvantaged considering certain factors such as access to good education (Lustig, 2010). Poverty and income inequality are also linked to social exclusion where certain groups in society are discriminated against by societal services and facilities such as education and job opportunities among others. A public health practice must therefore first understand the economic problems of the poor and marginalized populations to know the exact cause.
Considering unemployment as a social determinant of health, it is directly linked to poverty and income inequality. Unemployment leads to a lack of finance for the unemployed people in society and hence they are left with nothing for their daily expenditures. The risk of premature death due to poor health is high among the unemployed as compared to the employed. Apart from unemployment, job insecurity has also shown adverse effects on people's health. Job insecurity may actually lead to mental problems such as depression and increases the risk factors for heart diseases among others. Employment may not prevent ill health but job quality. In contemporary society capitalism, prevails whereby employees are exploited by doing much work just for little pay and their jobs are insecure. The poor and marginalized populations are highly affected by unemployment and job insecurity and hence they are highly exposed to ill health risk factors as compared to those employed in quality jobs.
Social support as a health social determinant is also linked to poverty and income inequality. The poor and marginalized populations suffer social and economic inequalities and this ends up deteriorating their health standards. Addiction as one of the social determinants of health is also linked to poverty and income inequality. Poor society members end up indulging in drug and substance abuse due to harsh economic conditions (Badland et al, 2014). As a result, drug and substance abuse is high among the poor and marginalized populations and this increases their risk of ill health and premature death. Food as a social determinant of health is also linked to poverty and income inequality. A good diet is essential for good health and well-being. In contemporary society, social and economic conditions determine diet quality, and this results in health inequality. The poor and marginalized populations cannot afford nutritious food due to lack of income and they instead tend to substitute fresh nutritious food with cheaper processed foods. This increases their risk of ill health and malnutrition and they may end up suffering from various illnesses such as diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular diseases among others.
In a nutshell, it is evident that poverty and income inequality is linked to the social determinants of health and impacts the poor and marginalized populations. It would, therefore, be crucial to understand poverty and income inequality as an economic conditions in order to develop effective public health practices in contemporary society.
Poverty and income inequality are relevant to public health interventions whose aim is to address the social determinants of health. First of all, it is crucial for a public health intervention to understand the major cause of a certain social health determinant in order to address the problem successfully. Without a clear understanding of the root cause of a certain problem, then the set public health interventions may end up failing. For instance, poverty and income inequality is the root cause of stress, addiction, poor early life, malnutrition, social gradient, lack of social support, and unemployment which are all social determinants of health (Raphael, 2011). Due to poverty and income inequality, the poor and marginalized populations end up living stressful lives as they have no means of surviving or rather raising up their families. Children from poor and marginalized populations are subjected to poor early life since they are unable to eat nutritiously, access quality education or even socialize well. The poor and the marginalized populations also engage in drug and substance abuse when faced by tough social and economic conditions as a means of coping up with stressful life (Embrett & Randall, 2014). From the above discussion, it is evident that poverty and income inequality makes people especially the poor and the marginalized populations to indulge in harmful activities which increases the risk of suffering from ill health and as a result their life expectancy is lower as compared to that of the rich since they end up dying prematurely. It is therefore evident that poverty and income inequality relate to public health interventions aimed at addressing the social determinants of health since a clear understanding of the economic condition (poverty and income inequality) is necessary as one of the major causes of the social determinants of health.
Rendering to the World Bank, the Social Safety Net Program can help to reduce poverty and income inequality and this will end up addressing the social determinants of health. The social safety net program enables people to avoid extreme poverty and this minimizes the poverty gap and reduces income inequality. The program impacts human capital by “reducing poverty and vulnerability, improving nutrition, providing dietary diversity, increasing school enrollment and completion rates, enhancing wellbeing and expanding immunization rates”. according to the world bank, the program already covers 2.5 billion individuals with only 1 in 5 for low-income nations being covered (Houtenville & Brucker, 2014). Through the program, the poor and the marginalized populations will be able to access affordable healthcare, attain high education, improve nutrition and earn social credit and unemployment benefits among others. This will help the entire society to live happily without stress and their health will be improved.
In a nutshell, poverty and income inequality have a crucial link to public health practices since it is among the major causes of the social determinants of health. Poverty and income inequality lead to stress, addiction, poor early life, malnutrition, social gradient, lack of social support and unemployment. It, therefore, means that for a health intervention to be successful in addressing the social determinants of health, there must be a clear understanding of the economic concept poverty and income inequality since it is directly linked to the social determinants of health. Rendering to the World Bank, the Social Safety Net Program can help to reduce poverty and income inequality. This will help in addressing the social determinants of health and improve the health standards of the entire society, especially the poor and marginalized populations.
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Embrett, M. G., & Randall, G. E. (2014). Social determinants of health and health equity policy research: exploring the use, misuse, and nonuse of policy analysis theory. Social Science & Medicine, 108, 147-155.
Gornick, J. C., & Jäntti, M. (Eds.). (2014). Income inequality: Economic disparities and the middle class in affluent countries. Stanford University Press.
Houtenville, A. J., & Brucker, D. L. (2014). Participation in safety-net programs and the utilization of employment services among working-age persons with disabilities. Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 25(2), 91-105.
Killewald, A., Pfeffer, F. T., & Schachner, J. N. (2017). Wealth inequality and accumulation. Annual review of sociology, 43, 379-404.
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Wilkinson, R. G., & Marmot, M. (Eds.). (2003). Social determinants of health: the solid facts. World Health Organization.
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