A recent study by a local hospital in Memphis showed that of patients admitted to the hospital for heart failure, African Americans were 15 years younger than their white counterparts.
They were also 3 times more likely to have their legs amputated from diabetes than white patients. What are the factors leading to these terrible disparities?
Our system in this country to help the poor is driven by economics and unequal systems of health, housing, education and employment. This has created a class of people who are falsely perceived as lacking strength and abilities, simply because they are poor. The message is that people in poverty are the problem, and require fixing, rather than fixing the systems which keep putting people in poverty and keeping them there. People are told they just need to get a job, or get a better job, or make better choices. Regardless of age, race, religion or culture, when individuals are exposed to poverty, statistically speaking they will be sicker, less productive, and die younger than their counterparts.
Understanding poverty as an environmentally based, treatable condition stops the blame and shame game, because poverty is not about who you are, its about where you live and the conditions you’re exposed to. No matter who you are, when you must constantly deal with food insecurity, racism, inadequate housing, poorly performing schools, high crime rates and lack of access to a living wage job, you will not only be less healthy, you will die younger.
At Church Health, we realize that good health does not depend on the pills you take. It depends on all these other factors which people deal with in their everyday lives. We must stop blaming the poor for being poor and start breaking down the systems that perpetuate poverty. Then we will bring true health to our communities. We have resources in Memphis to address poverty. Through your faith or your civic community, ask what you personally are doing to perpetuate the systems which keep poor people in poverty. Then ask how you can help change those systems.
We have many volunteer activities at Church Health. Find out how you can help us make Memphis healthier for all our citizens. Contact us at 272-0003 to find out more.
This is Dr Susan Nelson, at Church Health.