Inequality and health

There is an interesting opinion piece in The Tyee this morning, aptly named Dying for the Rich, which points out the links between inequality and life expectancy. The article’s author, Crawford Kilian, should be praised for bringing up an angle that was virtually ignored by media commentators in their coverage of the recent Census findings of growing inequality, even by those who were concerned by the income trends and did not try to explain them away.

Indeed, the connection between inequality and poor health has been well established and provides yet another reason to be concerned about the growing inequality in Canada. There is a fabulous documentary series on the topic called UNNATURAL CAUSES: Is Inequality Making Us Sick? that focuses on the US case but its message is relevant beyond the American borders as well. In the words of the series’ Executive producer:

Economic and racial inequality are not abstract concepts but hospitalize and kill even more people than cigarettes. The wages and benefits we’re paid, the neighborhoods we live in, the schools we attend, our access to resources and even our tax policies are health issues every bit as critical as diet, smoking and exercise.

The unequal distribution of these social conditions – and their health consequences – are not natural or inevitable. They are the result of choices that we as a community, as states, and as a nation have made, and can make differently. Other nations already have, and they live longer, healthier lives as a result.

Someone should send a DVD to the BC government whose approach to public health is completely missing the point: in this year’s throne speech they asserted that “[p]ersonal health starts with personal commitment to healthy eating, acting living and responsible health management.” It is time to stop emphasizing personal responsibility for health outcomes and to recognize the important role of the social conditions in which we live, work and play.

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