Being Poor & in Poor Health: The Effects of Poverty Part 1 of 3

Over 43 million Americans fall at or below the federal poverty level. This means that a family of four is living on $24,600 a year (or $2,050 a month). Being poor in the US also means living 10-15 years less than the richest Americans. This is the first installment in a series that will look at how living in poverty affects health and well-being.

The Environment

Poor communities typically have outdated infrastructures. Flint, Michigan is a close-to-home example of how those who live in poverty are exposed to environmental toxins through no fault of their own. Unacceptable levels of lead in the water were poisoning residents of the city.

Inadequate housing is another environmental concern for many low-income individuals. Lack of insulation and air leaks can expose residents to extreme temperatures. Faulty furnaces can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. Too much humidity can cause mold to grow. These issues can lead to health problems ranging from respiratory disease to death.


When you’re poor, there are times when there just isn’t enough money to put food on the table. And unfortunately, the cheapest food is also high in calories and fat. Even if there is money for healthier options, many poor neighborhoods exist in food deserts – areas where there isn’t access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

It is difficult to eat well when healthy options aren’t available or are too expensive. Obesity and unhealthy diets lead to increased risk for heart disease and diabetes. It is not surprising that people living in poverty are much more likely to experience these health issues.


People living in poverty in the US are fighting a losing battle when it comes to preventing and treating illness. In 2015, the National Center for Health Statistics found that poor individuals were three times more likely to avoid needed medical care due to cost. Poor Americans are also less likely to see a doctor for preventative care.

While the number of individuals who have health insurance has increased since 2013, there are still many who can’t afford medications to treat chronic health issues or specialized services like dental and vision care.

In 2015, it was estimated that over 91,000 Kent County residents were living at or below the federal poverty level. ACSET Community Action Agency is working to address the causes and effects of poverty. They offer programs that provide home weatherization, emergency food assistance and help applying for health insurance. All of these services can help improve the health of those living in poverty in our community.

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