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The Connection Between Poverty and Health

Economic status and health status are closely linked. While poverty does not directly cause health problems, it increases risk through other mechanisms. For example, those with a lower economic status typically have less access to nutritious foods, housing, and healthcare.

Economic stability is considered a social determinant of health, which are the socioeconomic factors that contribute to health outcomes. Healthy People 2030, part of the Healthy People Initiative by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has highlighted a number of national goals and targets, including increasing measures of economic stability. That includes reducing the proportion of people living in poverty and reducing food insecurity in households and children.


According to the State of Poverty In Ohio 2023 report, which was released by the Ohio Association of Community Agencies, the poverty rate in the state was 13.4% in 2021, which was slightly higher than the national rate. In Butler County, the poverty rate was 11.6%. The childhood food insecurity rate in the county was 14.3%.


Families may experience different levels of food insecurity. The U.S. Department of Agriculture considers low food security to affect diet quality, variety, or desirability, but not necessarily quantity. Very low food security is defined as “reports of multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake.”


A number of negative health outcomes are associated with poverty and food insecurity, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes. In children, food insecurity can also increase risk of conditions such as iron-deficiency anemia and can even impact academic performance. Several factors contribute to increased risk of such health outcomes. Individuals living in food deserts have less access to grocery stores and have to rely on convenience stores and other options in close proximity. Additionally, many packaged, ultra-processed foods are cheaper and have a longer shelf-life but may be higher in components such as sodium, saturated fat, and added sugars and lower in necessary vitamins and minerals.


It is important to note that not all processed food are unhealthy. Canned or frozen fruit and vegetables, canned beans, canned fish, frozen meats, and dairy are technically processed but still provide valuable nutrition. These foods can be found at TOPSS and can be used to build healthy meals and snacks.



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