There are 12 determinants of health.
Each one of them fluctuates in importance, in intensity and in relevance throughout our lifetime, and each one is intrinsically linked together, helping or hurting each other depending on the context and environment we live in. But their cumulative effects at the end of the day determines our overall perception of health – and whether or not we will see the light of dawn once again after the moon finishes its shift in the sky.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the very first one:
Income and Social Status.
The richer you are, the healthier you are. This is a general rule, and an actual fact.
Money is the fuel of our societies, and if we are like cars, without fuel we stall and stop working. But with a lot, it lights a spark in our engines and keeps us going for a while – maybe until forever, if we’re lucky. But alas, its an unfortunate reality that our well being depends so heavily on the numerical sums in our banks and the thickness of our wallets.
So let’s see how exactly this is a problem, and what we can do about it:
Nowadays a nice home cooked meal is more expensive than ordering a burger at the drive through. Your mom’s recipe made from fresh ingredients is way healthier than that artificially preserved patty you’re ingesting. But of course, if you had five dollars to spend on a meal at McDonald’s and feed yourself for the night, or five dollars to buy one or two items that will ultimately get you … some raw ingredients and not much else, someone with that little money to spend will obviously choose the fast food option if it meant sleeping with a full belly. When a cup of pop is less expensive than a bottle of water, or a salad is pricier than a burger, you know there’s going to be a problem when it comes to consumers’ choices of eating more or less healthy than they can.
But what if the next day, they only had five dollars again?
Well they are stuck in a perpetual cycle of unhealthy eating. Day in and day out their five dollars is spent on fast foods that make them accumulate high levels of calories, salt and sugar. All of these contribute to the development of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and many more health problems.
To no surprise, the people that are most affected by this are in low-income communities and neighborhoods, newcomers and the homeless populations. But a bit more surprising and less thought of, are students too – because the costs of tuition, rent and basically just trying to get ahead is very high. In fact, there is little food dollars – or any dollars – left at the end of the day.
That is unfortunate, but what can we do about it – especially regarding food?
Donate to your local Food Banks
This pro-bono act that anyone with a few bucks to spare can do is incredibly important to keep local communities happy and healthy. Food banks that are well stocked with non-perishables and fresh produce help a lot of people, especially if they are struggling to put food on the table. This particularly helps low-income families with many children, where parents sometimes sacrifice their meal so that their child sleeps with a full stomach. Students also need some healthy food for healthy brains, just so that they can concentrate on keeping up that dreaded GPA in order to keep those precious bursaries.
Organize community events and initiatives
There is nothing wrong with showing a little bit of generosity. You can gather a bunch of your friends and start fundraiser. Proceeds from this could go towards feeding the folks staying at emergency and homeless shelters.
Otherwise if you’re of the entrepreneurial spirit, start-up a social enterprise that helps empower local community members and creates some income for a neighborhood that can go towards an emergency aid fund.
Support, advocate and do some civic engagement
If you have and can afford the time to do some activism, you definitely should. In fact, community and civic engagement contributes to a sense of belonging. This then contributes to a sense of well-being and contributes to better health overall.
Most recently, Quebec has implemented a Supermarket Recovery Program. It has sent $20 M worth of unused foods from grocery stores to food banks instead of the trashcan. It has definitely saved a lot of empty bellies – and a lot of cash.
Why don’t you try and find a group or coalition that is fighting for the same issue in your region?
How else does money – or the lack of it – impact our health?
We’ll highlight two rapid-fire examples of how the lack of money could lead to a detriment in our health. Each example comes with a description of why it is a problem, followed by a solution.
Money provides a roof over your head
A roof over your head shelters you from the cold, the weather, and serves as a decent place to sleep. In fact, one of the biggest factors that lead to addictions is not being able to find stable housing. One cannot find stable housing without money, or stable income. People cannot be expected to change their lives if their living situations are constantly changing.
What can people do about it?
Communities can encourage folks to sign up for social housing programs. These programs alleviate or reduce the costs of finding a home.
Otherwise, people can support the development of safe injection sites. These sites allow people that are living with addictions to receive the care they need to change their lives. InSites are not a hub of drug dealers, but are the source of harm reduction. What this means is that they focus on all of the factors that led to these addictions. It also means that these sites reduce the harm of substance abuse. By addressing each contributing factor, those in suffering can heal and recover. Maybe these factors are things like no housing, no food, or no money, or poor mental health. That is not addressed by a doctor, but by social and community workers, psychiatrists and interventionists.
Money gives you a sense of security
Nothing eases the mind better than knowing you are financially stable. For a lot of people, precarious employment is a detriment to their mental health. Not knowing when your next paycheck will arrive can cause a lot of anxiety. This is incredibly harmful, especially if you have to make ends meet and if you depend on those checks arriving in time.
What can people do about it?
Local groups can lobby for increased wages. Recently, Ontario passed a $15 minimum wage which has sparked a lot of controversy, but has those in low-income communities thrilled. The additional income would serve as a buffer should emergencies arise, and improve their situation overall.
Otherwise, people can fight against predatory lending by introducing protective policies. It is a practice in which money lenders abuse interest fees on loans and lead people in debt. A lot of low-income and homeless folk use these services, which is a detriment to their situation. If there are laws that protect these people and that limit the impact that loans have on debt, it can be very beneficial.
Finally, we just scratched the surface on how income and social status can play a role in our health. Once again, the general rule is that if you have money, you are healthier than those that do not. And that’s not even all of the examples as to why. I’m sure that you can think of more.
Healthcare is a very complicated issue. This is just one of the 11 other determinants of health. Next up, shall I write on how Gender plays a role on our health, or what if I wrote about physical and social environments?
You decide. Let me know in the comments.
But for now, stay happy, and healthy!