Poverty Associated with Disease: More Evidence

whey proteinThere is a large body of evidence that shows that poverty is associated with disease. This should not be a surprising finding with regard to communicable diseases, because as socioeconomic status increases, housing quality and lifestyle conditions improve significantly and this elevates most away from the squalor that is known to be a causative agent in the spread of disease. By creating sewage systems and clean drinking water for most of the population, the Victorians did much to eradicate communicable diseases from Great Britain for example. It is also not surprising that as socioeconomic status increases, access to higher quality nutrition, particularly protein, increases, and this has beneficial effects on the immune system, lowering the risk of infection. As nation states develop economically therefore, their populations become less susceptible to communicable disease, and this is reflected by are large disparity in such diseases between the rich countries of the West, and the rest of the World.

However, more surprising perhaps is the association between poverty and non-communicable diseases in Western countries. For example, it has been shown that those with the lowest socioeconomic status, living in Western nations, are at higher risk of Western lifestyle diseases such as cardiovascular disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. This association is difficult to explain because Western lifestyle diseases are associated with the affluence of Western society, making it unclear as to why the poorest in these countries are at highest risk. One explanation is that those with low a socioeconomic status are less able to access high quality foods, and more likely to consume ready made foods containing sugar and refined starches. Recently a study published in the Journal of Nutrition reported that those children living in United States households with an absence of food security had a 4 % higher odds of having asthma. Male children, hispanics, blacks, low birth weight and overweight children had the highest odds of having asthma.


Food insecurity in households of United States residing children increases the odds of having asthma. This fits with other data showing that poor socioeconomic status is associated with Western lifestyle diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. One possible cause for this association may be access to ready made foods containing processed ingredients.

Clearly associations between socioeconomic status and disease exist. However, the cause and effect in these associations are hidden with many confounding variables. Just why the poorest living in the West are at high risk of Western lifestyle diseases, yet the poor living in developing countries are at low risk of these diseases, is not clear. That cheap food in the West often contains high amounts of refined starch, trans fats and sugar is the most likely explanation. While the poor in developing countries can afford only basic ingredients based on whole plant foods, those in the West have access to cheap but processed foods. Education may play a role in this as many individuals living in the West do not understand the requirement for good nutrition, and even those that do may not understand the nuances of creating a healthy eating plan. Whatever the reasons, the association between poverty and Western disease is well established, with asthma being another such disease that may be linked to food insecurity.

Eat Well, Stay Healthy, Protect Yourself


Mangini, L. D., Hayward, M. D., Dong, Y. Q. and Forman, M. R. 2015. Household food insecurity is associated with childhood asthma. Journal of Nutrition. 145: 2756-2764
Robert Barrington

About Robert Barrington

Robert Barrington is a writer, nutritionist, lecturer and philosopher.
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