End Poverty to Make Us a Healthier Nation

The U.S. is one of the richest countries on Earth, but has among the worst healthcare and the highest poverty rate, and it’s not getting any better. Last year’s poverty rate was the highest in 12 years (//www.nytimes.illeck.com/2009/09/11/us/11poverty.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=last%20years%20poverty%20rate%20was%20highest%20in%20twelve%20years&st=cse).

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how poverty and poor health are connected. Access to quality healthcare is certainly one important determinant. However, poor health goes beyond lack of healthcare access. Over thirty million (1 in 8 Americans) people lack proper shelter, clothing, and are food insecure. This includes 690,000 children and over 700,000 senior Americans. People who are food insecure lack access to adequate food because at some time during the year they didn’t have enough money for groceries. 

To make matters worse (if they can get much worse!), there is now scientific evidence that poverty may be passed from generation to generation! Researchers found that children born into poor households have diminished working memory which impairs learning language, reading and solving problems (Evans and Schamberg, “Childhood poverty, chronic stress, and adult working memory” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2009). This memory impairment was found to be directly associated with the stress that accompanies poverty. To measure stress, scientists used an index of allosteric load. This is a combination of six variables: blood pressure, the concentrations of three stress-related hormones and the body-mass index as a measure for obesity. All values were higher in poor children than those from middle class upbringings.

It has been shown that there is a relationship between being food insecure and having high cholesterol, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome. These findings suggest high-risk populations with limited resources may not have access to grocery stores that sell healthy foods such as fresh vegetable and fruit that are needed to prevent chronic disease conditions. What is even more alarming is families with smokers use grocery money to buy cigarettes, leaving more children food insecure. With the economic downturn, the number of hungry Americans is increasing as evidenced by the long lines at food banks across the country. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture the maximum food stamp benefits to families falls more than $63 short per month. Can you imagine, sixty three bucks? This is shameful considering how much we’re willing to spend to bail out, U.S. financial institutions, U.S. Automakers and cut taxes for the rich! Something must be done about poverty because it is the right thing to do, just as universal healthcare for all Americans is the right thing to do.

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