How does poverty affect health?
There is strong evidence that higher income and social status are linked to better health.
Money gives people opportunities for positive life chances, including healthy choices. Studies suggest two main connections between income and health:
- People with very low levels of income do not have enough money to purchase the essentials of life.
- People with relatively lower levels of income have fewer opportunities to exercise control over their lives.
Chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease/ stroke and lung disease are the leading causes of preventable death and disability in Canada. A growing body of research suggests that the risk factors for these diseases can be reduced by following a healthy lifestyle. In low-income populations, however, underlying social and economic factors can make it difficult to make lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, eating healthier food and increasing physical activity. People with lower incomes have greater health inequities (link to this section) because they have less personal control over where they live, what they eat, and how they work and relax.
The distribution of wealth throughout a country affects how healthy its overall population will be. Where there is a larger income divide between the richest and poorest in a country, health is poorer and average life expectancy is lower. The income gap between Canada’s richest and poorest people is growing and is now at its highest point in the last 30 years.
Who is most likely to be poor?
Those most likely to be affected by poverty in Canada include Aboriginal people, single mothers and their children, persons with disabilities, recent immigrants and those who have not completed high school.
Where can you go for more information?
Health Nexus Resources
"I'm Still Hungry" Child and Family Poverty in Ontario,
Why am I Poor: First Nations Child Poverty in Ontario,
- Toronto “Action on Poverty” ward profiles
- Why Are There Social Gradients in Preventative Health Behavior? A Perspective from Behavioral Ecology
Combating Poverty and Inequality: United Nations Research Institute for Social Development Flagship Report,
- Poverty Lens
- Growing Gap Updates, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
Chronic Poverty Research Centre (UK), Multidimensional Poverty Index resources (UK)
Income Inequality By the Numbers
This short (2:38) video by journalism student Jeff Fraser breaks down the details on the growth of income inequality in Canada between 1980 and 2009. It explains what income inequality is, how economists measure it, and what it means in Canada.
- Spent: a game about homelessness - From North Carolina, this game puts you in the shoes of a single parent down to his or her last $1000. The object of the game is to make it through the month.
The Last Straw! A Board Game on the Social Determinants of Health, 2007.
Developed by Kate Rossiter & Kate Reeve, this teaching tool promotes discussion about the social determinants of health while helping players build empathy with people who are marginalized. Also available in Spanish.