Monday, March 2, 2015

New poll asks "What Shapes Health"?

When you ask people what impacts health you'll get a lot of different answers: Access to good health care and preventative services, personal behavior, exposure to germs or pollution and stress. But if you dig a little deeper you'll find a clear dividing line, and it boils down to one word: money.

People whose household income is more than $75,000 a year have very different perceptions of what affects health than those whose household income is less than $25,000. This is one key finding in a poll conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. One third of respondents who are low income say lack of money has a harmful effect on health.

One in 5 people in our poll say they are in a similar position — low paying jobs or unemployment harms their health. And there's research to back this up. Kate Strully, a sociologist at the University at Albany, State University of New York, studied what happened when healthy people were laid off following a plant closing. She found that losing a job increased the odds of developing stress-related health conditions by 83 percent — conditions like stroke, heart disease, diabetes and emotional or psychiatric conditions.

Another social fact that affects health is housing. Forty percent of the low-income people in our poll say bad housing causes bad health. Uzuri Pease-Greene says this is true for her family. She rents a small two-bedroom apartment with her husband, two daughters and a grandchild in a public housing complex in San Francisco. When something breaks, she says it takes years to get it fixed. Ovens don't work, there are holes in the walls, the water doesn't work or there's a sewage backup.

The impact of childhood experiences on adult health is another surprising finding in our poll. More than any other factor in childhood, people say abuse and neglect contribute to poor health in adults. 

Read What Shapes Health Report.

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