U.S. lags other countries in addressing poverty-related health issues

POOR HEALTH: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
September 5, 2014

by Lillian Thomas

The U.S. continues to trail other nations in recognizing the role of poverty in quality of health.

In Canada, where indigenous people in Manitoba between the ages of 10 and 25 are eight times more likely to commit suicide than non-indigenous people, a program aims to restore health as “life in balance.” It focuses on strengthening the identity, culture and language of the youths to counteract depression and other psychological disorders.

In New Zealand, the Public Health and Disability Act passed in 2000 created 21 district health boards required to respond to community health needs and reduce health inequalities.

In Iran, a national program called Meshkat Salamat battles malnutrition in rural children. The program encourages breastfeeding, and provides nutrition education, vitamin supplements and iodized salt to affected families.

The work of researchers documenting the connections between poverty and health has been influential in many countries.

“British statistics have shown, for as long as one has cared to look, that health follows a social gradient: the higher the social position, the better the health,” wrote Michael Marmot of the University College London in the introduction to “The Social Determinants of Health,” first published by the World Health Organization in 2003. Many components of British health care address such social determinants.

Ken Thompson, a Pittsburgh psychiatrist who has worked with poor and homeless populations, said the fact that the “social gradient” persisted even in countries such as England where there is a national health service showed that it was more than a matter of access.