It’s been 52 years since President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a War on Poverty – part of his Great Society vision, which brought us such programs as Medicare, Medicaid and Head Start. And there is still so much work to do.
“Socioeconomic status is the most powerful predictor of disease, disorder, injury and mortality we have,” says Dr. Tom Boyce, chief of the University of California San Francisco’s Division of Developmental Medicine. The Center for Vulnerable Population reports, “Chronic disease – which accounts for 70 percent of deaths in this country – is deeply rooted in poverty.”
In health communication, we talk about “the gappy path” where we can see what leads to wellness but there are gaps in the path that stop us from getting there. Sometimes the gaps are little and temporary, like a looming deadline causing you to miss your afternoon walk, and sometimes, they are huge and chronic, especially for people in poverty. There is the gap in access to healthy food, the gap in funds for preventive medical care and the gap in transportation. Someone who has strung together three jobs to make ends meet for their family, and who must travel by bus to each job, likely does not have the luxury of time for exercise.
To reduce the disparities, researchers believe we need to meet people in poverty where they are, through community health workers and other local programs. Also, as one doctor who studies health and community put it, we need to shift the focus of health care away from how we treat disease to acknowledging why the disease happened in the first place.