It’s no secret that the wealthy in America have better health outcomes than the poor. The disparities can be shocking. It affects quality of healthcare, food, lifespan, and can even affect whether someone will contract an illness after being exposed. There are many conclusions we can draw from this fact (the extreme wealth disparity in our country is not only unethical but is in fact contributing to illness and death, we need universal healthcare, America sucks), but the picture may not be as simple as some articles prefer to paint it as. In fact, the reason that the wealthy are healthier may not simply be because they have access to better healthcare and healthier food, safer environments and less violence, but it may in fact reflect the fact that our society is set up at every level to cater to their needs.
Those who are poor are most often those who are discriminated against for race, gender, sexuality, or disability, things which all contribute to poor health outcomes. Police brutality and the prison industrial complex come down most harshly on people of color. Oddly enough being beaten by the cops and sent to prison aren’t too good for your health. The mentally ill often have their diseases dismissed as “all in your head”, which can lead to loss of jobs, healthcare, housing etc. and bad physical health outcomes. These intersections get ignored when we simply look at class without reminding ourselves that class is affected by other identities.
One article points out that the marshmallow test is associated with positive outcomes later in life, and that those who tend to do poorly on the marshmallow test tend to be poor. But the marshmallow test has been criticized as measuring the skills that make you successful in a white, upper class world, rather than the skills that make you successful in a world where you can’t necessarily trust authority. Most of these studies seem to be indicating that the wealthy are taught the successful ways to navigate the world while the poor are hurt by the way society is set up.
So for those who are poor, you have every right to be pissed off. Society is set up to shorten your life span by creating food deserts, making organic and healthy food more expensive and more time consuming to prepare, by increasing your stress by taking away your choices, by housing you in neighborhoods that are more dangerous and houses that are less healthy, by making gym memberships expensive, and by continuing to not educate or miseducate the poor on what it means to be healthy.
But what can we do? If society is set up to see us fail, how do we take our lives into our own hands and decide WE WILL BE HEALTHY? One of the first things that I’ve found helpful is to reconfigure our conception of our own health: being healthy isn’t just a choice we can make for ourselves personally, it can also be a political statement. I’m sure I’ve posted my favorite Audre Lorde quote here before, but if I haven’t, here it is:
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
I didn’t mean to put that in big ol’ letters, but I’m going to leave it that way because I think it’s that important. When the poor and oppressed among us live longer and healthier, we actively resist the society that wants us to be so downtrodden we can’t resist. The more we can see our choice to be healthy as a gigantic middle finger to a shitty system, the easier it is to make good choices (or at least I think so). A big part of this is forming communities. Cooking takes time and energy as well as money. If you get together with friends and each cook something, then do a big swap so you have a variety of foods for the week, you’ve saved time, probably money (because bulk is awesome), and you’ve provided yourself with the added benefit of social interaction (shown to be good for your health!).
We can also inform ourselves: information is powerful. Know what kinds of foods make you feel good, understand what a balanced and healthy diet looks like (protip: it does in fact involve some fat and sugar), and understand what healthy exercising habits are (regular, but not compulsive). Share information with each other. If you find something awesome and healthy, tell other people about it (Rock climbing! Fun! Exercise! Woot!). Share resources like low cost clinics for physical and mental healthcare. Support those places! Spend some time volunteering for Planned Parenthood or a local clinic that provides similar low income care.
None of this can change the fact that your environment is out of your hands. But we can look out for each other: if one of us spots mold in another’s apartment, we can research how to get rid of it and the potential health risks. If one person works from home and has tons of friends who don’t have time to cook, maybe their friends can throw a few bucks their way and ask them to cook in bulk. Share EVERYTHING (ok maybe not everything, but recipes, tips, exercises, doctors, good apartments, job leads…your community will give back to you if you give to it).
Remember that statistics don’t mean all of us are doomed. They point towards trends but they can’t predict your individual life. If you want to fight those statistics, here are some resources for low-income healthiness.
1. Fitness resources for low cost
2. Healthy food for lower costs
3. Low cost healthcare (this should be easier with Obamacare!). I’m going to put Minnesota resources since that’s what I know.
If anyone is interested, I am willing to host resources here and connect others who are interested in improving their health at a low cost. We can build our own communities that provide the same benefits that having lots of money does for the wealthy.