The Countless Ways Poverty Affects People's Health

By:  Lisa Esposito

Poverty's harsh effects on health start before babies are born and pile up throughout their adult lives. With stressed-filled homes, shaky nutrition, toxic environments and health-care gaps of every kind, kids in very low-income families may never catch up when it comes to their health. Below, experts spell out the strong link between poverty and illness and discuss efforts to lift people to better health.

Between 10 and nearly 15 years – that's the difference in life expectancy between the poorest and richest people in the United States, according to findings just published online in the medical journal JAMA. In the huge, long-term study encompassing 1.4 billion Americans, researchers matched income levels and mortality data between 1999 and 2014 to reach their conclusion. And low income has long been linked to lower birth weight, which increases the risk of a host of health and educational problems.

Gaps like this come as no surprise to Dr. James Duffee, who's been a community pediatrician in Springfield, Ohio, for more than 20 years, serving mostly low-income children and families. "Poverty is a negative, independent factor that influences lifelong health," he says. "Through the science of toxic stress, we understand that early childhood adversity and poverty is a factor that affects not only brain architecture and [neurologic and endocrine] function, but affects the probability of lifelong illness, including cardiac disease and diabetes."