There are connections between wealth and health. It is not a straight line, which says the richer you are the healthier you will be. The late Kerry Packer was for many years Australia’s richest man and yet had a number of serious health issues and ultimately died at the relatively young age of 68.
Three reports look at this topic from different angles. The first is a project in the UK, which wants to teach children to eat like medieval peasants. According to researchers at Leeds University it was the poor who had healthier diets and the rich were prone to obesity in medieval times. She observed that the poorer people were more likely to eat fruit, vegetables, and less meat.
Of course the rider on this is that some people could not afford food at all so whilst the theory is fine, it may not have worked that well in practice. And of course food is only one component of health.
Nevertheless the point that our ancestors, going right back to the hunter gatherer days had a better idea about what to eat and surprisingly had a greater variety of foods is valid. Much of today’s packaged food is based solely on wheat and corn. We think we have variety because there are thousands of boxes on supermarket shelves. The reality is that the boxes look different outside but the contents inside are surprisingly similar.
A German study has found that dietary choices and smoking habits track income levels. The higher the income the better the food choices and the less likely people are to smoke. This effect was not just seen in Western Countries.
In my view this is a correlation rather than causation. It is likely the same factors contribute to a person having better health and higher income. These include genetics, upbringing, education levels and their own personality and priorities in life.
A study commissioned for Catholic Health Australia found that socioeconomic status is the biggest indicator of health status and life expectancy. Those in the lowest income group lived three years less than those in the highest income group. Now reports can be self-serving and for an advocacy group this type of finding is exactly what they want. The finding was described as a “serious social problem” and of course there was a call for more “funding” of services.
However there is a valid point here. The improvements in health over the twentieth century had much more to do with better sanitation and overall better living standards than advances in medicine. As standards of living rise so too does health, although as we saw at the top of the article it is not a straight line. Richer countries have a new set of health problems related to “western living” in which people can be sedentary and eat too much food.
Poor health and poverty are both caused by the same factors rather than one necessarily causing the other. In other words the same personality traits, approach to life and choices will lead people to be better or worse off in a variety of ways.
For example smoking costs money and impacts on health. The decision to smoke therefore impacts both. The same can be said of drug usage and excess alcohol. A cabbage at 99c is cheaper than “junk food” and walking is free so the argument that it is expensive to be healthy does not actually hold water. Health is more about choices than dollars.
So what is the solution? Better education can help in this but is not the total answer. The answer lies in the choices people make. There is no right and wrong but there are choices and consequences. There are constellations of behaviours and decisions that we make that will determine our health and our wealth.
Yet nothing is set in concrete. There is nothing that prevents you from making changes if you want to change things in your life.