By Alyssa Alves
Americans with higher incomes are healthier because of their ability to afford better health insurance plans, medications and diagnostic tests.
“There are a lot of problems in the American healthcare system. Compared to other countries, we are purchasing the same amount and quality of healthcare but paying much more,” said Patryk Babiarz, a professor in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences at the University of Georgia.
Babiarz said the high costs of healthcare gradually impact the physical health of those with lower incomes. Research has found that Americans with lower incomes tend to be less healthy than those with higher incomes. Overall, the socioeconomic status of Americans directly impacts both their physical and mental health.
The effects of socioeconomic status on health are partially determined by the American healthcare system. Those of lower socioeconomic status have lower life expectancy, suffer from more chronic illnesses and have worse overall health than those of a higher socioeconomic status, according to a 2017 research article published in the Journal of Private Care & Community Health.
Jackie Kimball, 19, a management major at the University of Georgia, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 3. Living with diabetes requires many daily means of preventative healthcare.
“I have to constantly make sure I keep my supplies stocked up- from blood sugar testing strips to site changes. All of the supplies and new technology that helps me, adds up,” Kimball said. “My dad has a good job in sales, so he gets us insurance through work. Our insurance partially covers dealing with my Type 1 diabetes. However, our yearly expenses are in the thousands still.”
Kimball said she is thankful her family has adequate health insurance. “I could not imagine the stress it would add if my dad did not have a job that can provide us with what we need,” she said.
Babiarz said a significant contributor to illness is decreases in income, adding this “usually this happens over time.” He said when people’s income decreases, they find themselves unable to afford preventative healthcare and it ultimately may lead to disease.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that Americans use preventative healthcare measures at half of the recommended rate. The treatment of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease accounts for 75 percent of American healthcare spending, according to the CDC.
Mental health is also impacted by socioeconomic status. “The psychological state is easier to document. Those whose income goes down or lose their job score much higher for depression- it’s hard to recover financially,” said Babiarz.
He explained that while physical illnesses related to lower socioeconomic status develop over time, psychological impact can occur immediately with a change in income or loss of job.
The industry in which one works also impacts overall health. Those who work in higher-paid jobs tend to face fewer occupational hazards in the workplace, and they generally have better access to healthcare through their job.
Blue-collar workers face more stressors in the workplace due to hazardous conditions and less job security which can lead to hypertension, diabetes, chronic pain and cardiovascular issues, according to the American Psychological Association. These factors cause significant stress on the body over time.
“When studying financial status and its impact on health we have to consider many factors including various financial vulnerabilities and their effects,” said Babiarz.
Alyssa Alves is a student at the University of Georgia.