Poverty as a Risk Factor for Poor Health: Impact on Life Expectancy and Beyond

Poverty is a well-established contributor to poor health outcomes, with extensive research demonstrating that socioeconomic status impacts health just as smoking and a sedentary lifestyle do. Poverty not only influences health but also reduces life expectancy by up to 2.1 years, according to a paper published in The Lancet. The effects of poverty on health and life expectancy are so profound that the World Health Organization (WHO) has listed it as one of the most significant risk factors for non-communicable diseases. Recent research comparing low socioeconomic status to other common risk factors, including tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, and alcohol abuse, found that people of low socioeconomic status were 46% more likely to die early. Poverty can affect people’s health at all stages of life, with the most deprived areas in the UK seeing life expectancies up to 7.9 years less for men and 5.9 years less for women. Poverty in childhood can be especially harmful, impacting cognitive development and increasing the likelihood of infant mortality. Therefore, strategies to improve global and national health must target poverty alongside other common risk factors.

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