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Tag: Anti-Poverty Medicine

No, the Poor Don’t Always Have to Be With Us

BY KIM BELLARD

OK, for you amateur (or professional) epidemiologists among us: what are the leading causes of death in the U.S.?  Let’s see, most of us would probably cite heart disease and cancer.  After that, we might guess smoking, obesity, or, in recent years, COVID.  But a new study has a surprising contender: poverty.   

It’s the kind of thing you might expect to find in developing countries, not in the world’s leading economy, the most prosperous country in the world. But amidst all that prosperity, the U.S. has the highest rates of poverty among developed countries, which accounts in no small part for our miserable health outcomes.  The new data on poverty’s mortality should come as no surprise.

The study, by University of California Riverside professor David Brady, along with Professors Ulrich Kohler and Hui Zheng, estimated that persistent poverty – 10 consecutive years of uninterrupted poverty – was the fourth leading cause of death, accounting for some 295,000 deaths (in 2019). Even a single year of poverty was deadly, accounting for 183,000 deaths.  

“Poverty kills as much as dementia, accidents, stroke, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes,” said Professor Brady. “Poverty silently killed 10 times as many people as all the homicides in 2019. And yet, homicide firearms and suicide get vastly more attention.” 

The study found that people living in poverty didn’t start showing increased mortality until in their 40’s, when the cumulative effects start catching up.  The authors note that these effects are not evenly distributed: “Because certain ethnic and racial minority groups are far more likely to be in poverty, our estimates can improve understanding of ethnic and racial inequalities in life expectancy.”

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