Thursday, January 5, 2012


The highly regarded “Wellness Letter” published by the UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health, generally publishes articles about blood pressure, smoking, what foods absorb most pesticides, and the like. It is only eight pages, but packed with useful and accessible information. In the most recent issue, the lead story was about PSA tests and the other main story about the nutritional value of garlic, which they call a “foodaceutical.”  I highly recommend subscribing, but that is not why I mention this newsletter. 

The last page of the newsletter has a column called “The Last Word.”  That most recent column looks at the causes of premature death and has this to say, “One overlooked cause is lack of money.  More precisely, being poor and/or having less than a high school education—what researchers call low socioeconomic status (SES)—is a health hazard, especially when it comes to heart health.”  Of course poor people have worse health because they have worse or no health care, they hold more dangerous jobs, and may live in neighborhoods with more pollution.  Lack of access to nutritious food and the cheapness of fast food put poor people at much higher risk for obesity, high blood pressure and cancer.  These and others are risk factors that come with or may be caused by being poor.  But the article goes on to say that even when poor people decrease their risk factors, they are “still at about 50 percent higher risk than comparable well off people.  This means that low SES increases the risk of heart disease independent other risk factors.” 

They recommend that health care providers who work with poor people take their SES into account as a separate and major risk factor.  And of course they mention that we will need to reduce income inequality to really address this concern.

The Wellness Letter is not the first or only place to mention the relationship between a shortened lifespan, heart health and poverty.  But since I read this newsletter to get tips on how to be healthier myself, I perhaps was struck by it more or differently than when I have read about the effects of poverty on health in the past. 

The Chronicle of Philanthropy asked a number of nonprofit leaders what resolutions the sector should have for 2012 and this is the one I contributed, in part because of reading this article.  
Rather than focus on protecting tax incentives that primarily benefit the well-to-do, and fighting limits to the charitable deduction, nonprofit leaders should concentrate on addressing income inequality and the social problems that creates. Let us resolve to remember who we are: the voice of the common good. Our job is to propose answers to the question of how a country can guarantee all its inhabitants a life of freedom, security, and peace. We are smart enough to figure this out and, at 10 percent of the work force and well over a trillion dollars passing through our coffers every year, we are powerful enough to make it happen. This year, let’s be brave enough to actually do it.
Because, literally, lives hang in the balance.

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