The Effect that Wealth has on Population Health

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The relationship between health and wealth has become one of the most examined areas in the field of social determinants of health. The material studied in class has shown that social determinants of health such as income and workplace conditions have a greater impact on ones health than lifestyle factors. It has become clear to me that the policies that have been implemented by modern policy makers has impacted the way resources such as wealth have been distributed thereby causing equity to increase within countries such as the U.S and Canada and impacting the health on the lower end of the social ladder.

The article ‘Why Billionaires are Bad For Your Health’ opened my eyes to the way their income and power has influences policy makers. McQuaig and Brooks (2010) drew upon the notion of how height is a useful measure of citizens well being to develop and thrive under the nations socio-economic conditions (p. 150). It also indicates how well society is taking care of it’s young due to the fact that height is set in the adolescent years. Ironically Americans used to be the tallest people in the world but due to the introduction of neo-liberal policies and a lack of universal health care that is not the case anymore. In comparison Scandinavian people are now the tallest people due to having a much more equal society. Therefore, the social gradient pattern is society can be correlated with the height of its citizens (McQuaig and Brooks, 2010).

Neo- liberal policies have given a small portion of society more power and wealth while decreasing the amount of power average laborers have in fighting for equitable workers rights (Martinez & Garcia, n.d). The theory also encourages government cutting to public social services such as education and health care. The policy makers who implement these policies likely do not feel the effects of their policies as evident in the movie ‘Life Under Mike”. The film investigated the effects that Premier Mike Harris’s drastic social assistance cuts had on low-income citizens.  The cuts led to an increase in homelessness and poverty across Ontario thereby showing the importance of having a strong social safety net for people to fall back if needed to make ends meet (Guerrilla Films Inc., 2000). The movie gave one important parallel with a food server showing the elaborate and expensive food that was available for the politicians to eat in comparison to the people on the lower end of the social ladder barely being able to afford basic needs.
Overall, as documented in the article “Sick of Poverty” the socio-economic status gradient (SES) has been studied in many cities and nations to document diseases and cancers (Sapolsky, 2005). Sapolsky (2005) notes that people with low socioeconomic status have a increased morbidity rates as well as shorter life spans than their wealthy counterparts. However, it has been noted that the difference is not due to “lifestyle factors” but rather to psychosocial stress that people in the bottom rung of the social ladder face. Sapolsky (2005) argues that psychosocial stressors are not distributed evenly among social classes. The poor have more physical stressors (manual labour, hunger, sleep deprivations) as well as psychological stressors (lack of control at work) and lack of social support (Sapolsky, 2005). All these stressors place a heavy toll on ones body and constantly being stressed can lead to a worsening of ones cardiovascular health as Sapolsky (2005) points out.

The ramifications of being in the lower end of the social ladder has drastic consequences on ones health by increasing incidences such as disease and shortening of ones life expectancy. Thus, my understanding is that policy makers and corporations need to help close the gap between the rich and poor and create better workplace conditions in order to make health more equitable between all the social classes.

-M

References

McQuaig, L. & Brooks, N. (2010). Why billionaires are bad for your health. In The Trouble with Billionaires. Toronto: Viking Canada, ISBN 9780670064199, pp 149 of 272.

Motluk, J. E. (Director). (2000). Life under Mike [Documentary]. Canada: Guerrilla Films Inc.

Martinez, E., & Garcia, A. (n.d.). What is neo-liberalism?. CorpWatch : Index. Retrieved October 14, 2011, from
http://corpwatch.org/article.php?id=376

Sapolsky, R. (2005, December). Sick of poverty. Scientific American, n.a, 94