Insights on public health:Taking on poverty to improve health

Dr. Monika Dutt

This series asks Medical Officers of Health across Nova Scotia the questions: what is affecting health in our province, and how can we make things better?

This month, Dr. Monika Dutt, medical officer of health for Cape Breton, Guysbourgh and Antigonish areas, explains the link between income and health status.

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“Living in poverty is a barrier to good health. Poverty increases the risk of a number of different conditions, ranging from diabetes to heart disease to mental illness. A recent national report shows that not only does poverty make you more likely to be in worse health, but that the gap between the health of the rich and poor in many areas of Canada is increasing.

For example, in Canada the smoking rates among those people with the highest income is decreasing, while the rate of smoking of those with the lowest income has stayed the same. We are doing better on smoking rates overall, but it’s easier to start and harder to stop smoking when you’re living in poverty. In Nova Scotia, almost 40 per cent of people in the lowest income category smoke, while less than 20 per cent in the highest income category smoke.

This does not mean that being poor makes you less likely to care about your health – it means there aren’t the supports around you, like having a decent income, affordable food, parks to walk in, or access to health care, that make it easier to be healthy.

We can improve our health, and the health of individuals across the country is improving. With a clear link between better income and better health, let’s look at ways to improve poverty as a health intervention – and let’s make it so all of us can enjoy good health.”