Healthy Living in the North

Poverty and health – an unbreakable bond?

I must remain a force for change

Local graffiti: “I must remain a force for change.”

World Poverty Day, which fell on October 17 this year, doesn’t spark fundraising walks or appeals for funds but it’s still an important health promotion campaign. As poverty is a major factor in determining the level of health that people can achieve, policies and actions that help to reduce or eliminate poverty will improve health. It’s so well recognized and understood that the World Health Organization declared October 17 as World Poverty Day in an effort to focus attention globally on the issue of poverty. This day is intended to give people living in poverty an opportunity to speak and act on the problems emerging from poverty and destitution.

Understanding the connection between social factors, such as poverty and health, challenges us to think outside of the health care box. We tend to think of our heath care services as the critical intervention that determines whether we are sick or healthy. Yet, many people are unaware that illness, disease and injury start outside of the health care system. Our health is shaped by the conditions in which we live, the levels of education and income in our families, whether our neighbourhoods and workplaces are safe. Poor families are often trapped in low-income employment and living in unsafe neighbourhoods. They live without many of the essentials of life that many of us may take for granted.

Seeing how poverty directly impacts the health of individuals also allows us to see the important role of health in building healthier communities that step outside of the health care services “box.” When people are exposed to increased health risks because of poverty, or when we lose them to premature death or to chronic diseases, we lose valuable community assets that could have made important contributions to our local economies and to a rich and vibrant social fabric.

Finding ways to reduce poverty is a challenge, in part because it can become a vicious cycle. For example, we have many children in our region who live in poverty, who go to school hungry. The capacity of children to learn and acquire the education that would help them escape poverty in the future is compromised by the poverty they live under in the present.

So, while World Poverty Day doesn’t ask us to contribute from our wallets, it is looking to collect something different, something equally valuable: our time and attention. Each of us can ask ourselves, what can we do to help reduce and eliminate poverty in the communities we call home?

For more information please visit the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition. This coalition consists of community and non-profit groups, faith groups, health organizations, First Nations and Aboriginal organizations, businesses, labour organizations, and social policy groups. They have 30 coalition members and 350 supporting organizations whose goal it is to work together for a poverty-free BC.

Theresa Healy

About Theresa Healy

Theresa is the regional manager for healthy community development with Northern Health’s population health team and is passionate about the capacity of individuals, families and communities across northern B.C. to be partners in health and wellness. As part of her own health and wellness plan, she has taken up running and, more recently, weight lifting. She is also a “new-bee” bee-keeper and a devoted new grandmother. Theresa is an avid historian, writer and researcher who also holds an adjunct appointment at UNBC that allows her to pursue her other passionate love - teaching.