In anticipation of the upcoming Unnatural Causes documentary to be shown on PBS in March 2008, I wanted to post this handout that speaks to the issue of health disparities. Here are ten things that we should all be aware of in regards to health:
1. Health is more than health care. Research shows that social conditions – the jobs we do, the money we’re paid, the schools we attend, the neighborhoods we live in – are as important to our health as our genes, our behaviors and even our medical care.
2. Health is tied to the distribution of resources. The single strongest predictor of our health is our position on the class ladder.
3. Racism imposes an added health burden.
4. The choices we make are shaped by the choices we have. Some neighborhoods have easy access to fresh, affordable produce; others have only fast food joints, liquor and convenience stores.
5. Chronic stress can be deadly. Exposure to fear and uncertainty trigger a stress response.
6. High demand + low control = toxic stress. People at the top certainly face pressure but they are more likely to have the power and resources to manage those pressures.
7. Inequality – economic and political – is bad for our health. Tax breaks for the rich, deregulation, the decline of unions, racism and segregation, outsourcing and globalization, as well as cuts in social programs destabilize communities and channel wealth and power – and health – to the few at the expense of the many.
8. Social policy is health policy. Social measures like living wage jobs, paid sick and family leave, guaranteed vacations, universal preschool and access to college, and guaranteed health care can further extend our lives by improving our lives.
9. Health inequalities are not natural. Health disparities that arise from our racial and class inequities result from decisions we as a society have made – and can make differently.
10.We all pay the price for poor health.