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The Impact of Food Insecurity and Poverty on Health

By Lara Sharma

Contributing Artist


  1. Food insecurity and hunger have many drastic impacts on their victims. Consistently struggling to access food and living in conditions that are often unsanitary and stressful can take a toll on one’s health. It affects mental, social, and physical health in different ways, ranging from stress to cancer. Here are the most prominent health issues, in no particular order. Cancer: People living in poverty have higher rates of cancer than those living in better conditions. The most common of those cancers include lung, breast, colorectal, and prostate cancer. Evidence shows that this is often due to higher rates of smoking. Smoking and even chronically inhaling the smoke can lead to significantly higher rates of cancer. Additionally, the healthcare system has significant inequities. People in the lower-income segments of Canada are “falling behind” in cancer diagnosis and treatment (including radiation, surgery, and clinical trials). Cancer survival outcomes are also significantly lower, which might be attributed to the fact that people living in poverty attend fewer doctors’ appointments where early detection could occur. It may also be due to biases within our healthcare system.

  2. Cardiovascular Disease: People living in poverty and dealing with food insecurity within the lower-income ranges have higher rates of cardiovascular disease. A study led by Dr. Ahmed Tawakol at Harvard University found a direct link between stress and cardiovascular disease. People who had higher stress levels had increased inflammation in their arteries.


They also had higher risks of cardiovascular disease and major cardiovascular events (i.e., heart attack). People living through food insecurity and poverty inherently have increased stress rates. These victims have a 257% higher risk of anxiety. Constantly trying to access food, provide for your family, and surviving without food for significant periods causes more stress. Poverty also increases risk, as people struggle to find sufficient financial means, shelter, and basic human necessities.

  1. Mental Health Issues: Mental illness is the second leading cause of disability and death in Canada. Mental health illnesses come in a variety of different forms, ranging from chronic anxiety to suicidal thoughts. Studies show that people living in poverty are three to four times more likely to report their mental health as fair to poor than people living in the highest income bracket. Often, jobs pressures, secure/safe housing and unstable finances lead to psychological strain, causing higher rates of chronic anxiety, stress, depression, and suicide.


  1. Rates of violence are also exceptionally prominent among those who face poverty and economic tension. Being surrounded by violence takes a significant toll on how a person views the world and their mental stability. It can often cause people to be hyperaware due to their unstable surroundings. It can also cause people to face moderate to severe depression, as they may feel as though their life doesn’t matter.


As you can see, poverty and food insecurity have a significant impact on a person’s health. It can play a crucial role in both physical and mental health. People who live in poverty and food insecurity experience things that people living in more privileged economic situations may not. That can lead to the higher rates of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and mental health illnesses. Nobody deserves to die of any disease, and we don’t want the death rates of those who are less privileged to be higher th


an others. To help prevent this and support people who are struggling, please donate to Rising Sun Food Drive and other charities and food drives in your neighbourhood. We must combat this, and we can only do that by working together. If you know someone who struggles with mental health disorders, please provide them with a place to talk, and call a mental health or suicide hotline if necessary.


Bibliography

Dresden, D. (2019, March 7). 10 Effects of Smoking Cigarettes. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324644#lung-damage.

Fang, D., Thomsen, M. R., & Nayga, R. M. (2021, March 29). The Association Between Food Insecurity and Mental Health During the COVID-19 pandemic. BMC Public Health. https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-021-10631-0.

Health, Nutrition, and Food Insecurity. PROOF. (n.d.). https://proof.utoronto.ca/resources/research-publications/health-nutrition-and-food-insecurity/#:~:text=Studies%20have%20shown%20that%20adults,and%20mood%20and%20anxiety%20disorders.

Shimmin, C. (n.d.). Backgrounder: The Impact of Poverty on Health. Evidence Network. http://evidencenetwork.ca/backgrounder-the-impact-of-poverty-on-health/#:~:text=Children%20who%20grow%20up%20in,live%20in%20poverty%20as%20aduls

Sohn, E. (2016, October 30). Can poverty lead to mental illness? NPR. https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2016/10/30/499777541/can-poverty-lead-to-mental-illness.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2019, July 23). Stress links poverty to inflammation and heart disease. National Institutes of Health. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/stress-links-poverty-inflammation-heart-disease#:~:text=Poverty%20can%20take%20a%20toll,factors%20also%20play%20a%20role.


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