Poverty and health

Written By: - Date published: 7:57 am, February 4th, 2017 - 43 comments
Categories: health, poverty - Tags: ,

Not exactly a surprise is it:

Poverty worse for health than alcoholism – study

A new study published in The Lancet has found people who are poor are likely to die sooner than alcoholics or those who are obese.

The European study of 1.7 million people over the age of 40 was the first to compare low socio-economic status with other major risk factors in health.

Predictably, smoking and diabetes are the worst offenders – reducing life expectancy by 4.8 and 3.9 years respectively. Being poor shortened life expectancy by 2.1 years.

But what’s interesting is the study found being poor is worse for you than obesity and high alcohol consumption.

The study’s lead author says governments should accept socioeconomic status as a major risk factor and stop excluding it from health policy.

Researchers say reducing poverty and improving education will help keep more poor people from an early grave.

Bill English wants the election to be about the economy. Asked to sum it up in one word he picked “growth”. (I/S at NRT observes that the fastest growth we’re seeing is in foodbank demand).

I will give my vote to those who want the election to be about people. I can’t get it down to one word, but I’ll go with two, “eliminate poverty”.

43 comments on “Poverty and health ”

  1. One Anonymous Bloke 1

    The biggest roadbock preventing genuine action being taken is the self-attribution fallacy put about by right wing cry-babies, who cannot abide the truth: that material wealth is a consequence of luck, not their precious self-regard.

    So long as they can keep lying to themselves, they will continue to believe, and wail ad nauseam, that poverty is a choice.

    No matter how many ill effects are known, the damage being done to individuals and society will not move them so long as this pernicious lie persists.

    Alleged left wingers like David Shearer are similarly infested with this false belief.

    A two-pronged approach is necessary. Obviously their victims need protection and support; it’s also past time the Left went after the lie directly. Rip it out at the roots.

    • UncookedSelachimorpha 1.1

      “that material wealth is a consequence of luck, selfishness and avarice, not their precious self-regard.”

      • One Anonymous Bloke 1.1.1

        Nope, just chance. Personal character doesn’t enter into it.

        • David C

          You are just pulling yourself if you think habits and character dont attribute to wealth or lack thereof.

          • One Anonymous Bloke

            Lots of people who aren’t rich have the same or better habits and character. The difference between them and their lucky peers is luck.

            • David C

              That has fuck all to do with your first pure bullshit comment.

              • One Anonymous Bloke

                Meanwhile, on Earth, it is a response to your flaccid attempt at rebuttal. Your failure to understand that isn’t my problem.

                Self-attribution bias, headwind-tailwind asymmetry, the meritocracy paradox. You are incapable of grasping these and other real-world phenomena in the face of your deeply held reckons.

                Cry, baby.

            • Richard McGrath

              To some extent you can make your own luck by following a risk-averse lifestyle.

            • Richard McGrath

              “Lots of people who aren’t rich have the same or better habits and character.”

              Anecdotal observation that proves nothing. It seems logical to me that people who are law-abiding, thrifty and look after their health tend to end up wealthier than criminal spendthrift drug addicts.

              • McFlock

                Tend to.
                Unless they have bad luck.

                You can have a poor, short life no matter how hard you work or pure your lifestyle.
                You can’t have a long and wealthy life without a certain amount of good luck.

              • One Anonymous Bloke

                …and you’re ignoring the various factors that affect the chance of drug addiction, criminality, and thriftiness (or lack of it).

                I don’t have to prove anything, by the way: if you belief the self-attribution fallacy is a myth, you’re the one who has to support your assertions.

                There’s lots of research on the subject. Go for it.

              • Chris

                “It seems logical to me that people who are law-abiding, thrifty and look after their health tend to end up wealthier than criminal spendthrift drug addicts.”

                Is that an anecdotal observation that proves something?

          • McFlock

            Habits and character are useless without luck.

            That’s why some of the hardest-working people I know have been in the lowest paid and shittiest jobs.

    • Carolyn_nth 2.1


      It’s important to note the study doesn’t focus on income level directly. They use socio-economic status, as defined by an individual’s last occupation, as their research focus.

      They do mention there are issues with this e.g. older married women who don’t have a long history of being in the labour force. And it looks like they’ve banded occupations into upper, middle and lower socio-economic levels.

      The article says that factors such as education level, rather than amount earned, may also have an influence on an individual’s health.

  2. Johan 3

    What is the official definition of poverty? Is it defined by the National Party , or a United Nations organization such as UNICEF? Getting the definition correct should lead to more accurate figures of children living in poverty. At the moment some 25% of children living in New Zealand are documented to be living in poverty. Of course this figure changes when within poverty studies, the cost of Housing may or may not be included. Knowing this, fudging of figures does take place. The level of poverty in New Zealand, no matter which figures we accept as genuine, they are too high and the people in power should be ashamed of themselves.

    • The Real Matthew 3.1

      The 25% figure is total BS. It’s based on a measure of inequality, not poverty.

      If a basket method was used you will find that poverty had decreased markedly since the early 1980’s as we are all much better off than we were under the big brother economy.

      • Carolyn_nth 3.1.1

        From the Otago Uni child poverty study:

        Notice that child poverty rates (after housing costs) were about half their current levels in the mid-1980s. They increased dramatically during the early 1990s as a result of much higher levels of unemployment and cuts in the real value of most welfare benefits. The fall in child poverty, especially between 2004 and 2007, reflects a stronger economy and the impact of the Working for Families package in lifting the disposable incomes of low-income families. Similar data on longer-term trends in material deprivation rates are not available, but data for 2007
        to 2011 are shown in Figure 1.5

        My bold.

      • McFlock 3.1.2

        The homeless will be pleased to hear that they are much better off.

      • Keith 3.1.3

        Yep, its total BS. Hence all the beggars and homelessness. And on the beggar front it was unheard of in this country 30 years ago. But then again the overt wealth some sport was unheard of as well.

        You need to get out more!

      • One Anonymous Bloke 3.1.4

        Keep telling yourself that, low-life.

    • Carolyn_nth 3.2

      There are different poverty measures, some widely accepted OEDC ones, and some drawn up by poverty campaigners or monitors in NZ.

      Poverty measures by NZ child poverty monitor.

      The latter tend to focus on things like “material hardship”, which clearly spells out the things that put households into the category of in hardship.

      7up material hardship is for those who have/lack at least 7 items on the list
      9-up is for those that have/lack at least 9 items

      the list begins with:

      …. lack of essentials

      1.meal with meat, fish or chicken (or vegetarian equivalent) at least each 2nd day.

      2. 2 pairs of shoes in good repair and suitable for everyday use

      3. suitable clothes for important or special occasions

      4. presents for family or friends on special occasions

      5. home contents insurance

      plus there are 3 criteria for financial vulnerability; 7 criteria for economised, cut back or delayed purchases a lot; and 2 groups of criteria for arrears in crucial payments more than once in last 12 months eg water, electricity, vehicle registration.

      • Incognito 3.2.1

        There is very little point in debating poverty, for example, with denialists let alone trying to ‘convert’ them. They always try to find or poke a hole in one hypothesis that will undermine (inconsistency problem) all & everything that’s associated with it. Using social science is of little use because science is not absolute and never-settled –some argue that there’s no thing as “social science” so go figure. The point of a genuine debate is to come from different angles or starting points and try, really try, to find a “discernible truth”, if you like, to have a better understanding (also of each other but this is intrinsic anyway) but also of moving forward together as it were. IMO it decreases polarity and (false) dichotomy by integrating rather than reducing/nullifying. The usual Left-Right (winners-losers) Tango is a fine example, IMHO, of a socio-political pseudo-debate in which we’re just going around in circles and not getting anywhere in a real sense. Politics is not a dance but a process to move forward although watching politics one could be excused thinking they’re watching Dancing with the Stars rather.

    • McFlock 3.3

      Different measures have different uses to illustrate different aspects of the problem.

      But in general, if someone tries to parse exactly where it is, chances are we’ve already done something very, very wrong…

      h/t john oliver

  3. AsleepWhileWalking 4

    Sad story on Stuff today. Don’t bother with the comments, the arrogance will only piss you off.


    There but for the grace of God go I…

  4. AsleepWhileWalking 5

    Did you know….

    That if we compared what people would receive under Special Benefit to what they are now receiving under TAS most people would receive far less. The only exception to this are people with very high disability related costs.

    TAS was brought in around 2007 and Special Benefit phased out.

    I think this has played a significant role in people not being able to afford proper food or being unable to pay for prescriptions.

    • weka 5.1

      Yep, thanks Labour.

      “The only exception to this are people with very high disability related costs.”

      Afaik TAS is still capped for them, so they are worse off too. Or are you saying they can access an exemption?

  5. Draco T Bastard 6

    Being poor is massively stressful as you simply don’t know if you can afford to live this week. Don’t know if you’ll be able to afford the bills, or food, or anything.

    Being a student is worse than being on the UB and you have to borrow to do it.

    Forget planning anything – it really can’t be done.

    • Kay 6.1

      Very true DTB. And chronic financial stress = chronic stress in general = causes long term health problems. And if you already have health problems they just get worse.

      Awful as the financial situation is for students and unemployed, with any luck for most it is a temporary situation. Spare a thought for those with permanent disabilities/illness that are facing the reality of NEVER being able to work again, even if there were full employment tomorrow. The prospect of being chronically poor, poorer by the year and never being able to change that situation, and getting sicker as a result. People who were once able to maybe work a few hours are week with the back up of Invalids benefit are now in a position where they can’t even do that.

      Also consider how much these policies to cut the welfare budget are costing the health budget. Tell your Nat friends about this thing called cost benefit analysis.

  6. Incognito 7

    The link between socio-economic status and health is much more insipid than we often realise. Overlook this confounding factor and stubborn alternative factsmyths are born.

    “We initially found that older men and women who consumed one to two drinks daily, and [were] considered moderate drinkers, reported better health than non-drinkers or heavier drinkers,” said Dr Andy Towers, from the School of Public Health.

    “However, we also found that these same moderate drinkers had higher socio-economic status than non-drinkers or heavier drinkers.

    “This makes it hard to conclude whether good health was due to moderate drinking or better socio-economic status,” Towers said.

    “Moderate drinkers tend be wealthier, with lifestyles that encourage good health, so it looks like there is a relationship between their drinking and their health status.”


    • Nic the NZer 7.1

      The problem arises, not from using alternative facts, but relying primarily on statistical studies to try to generate conclusions. Statistical studies can never prove the underlying causal link between the implied causes, this way we can never (its logically impossible) generate a causal link between A (say alcohol consumption) and B (worse health). Its inappropriate (and confusing to readers) to call this alternative facts because the problem has been around for a long time and ‘alternative facts’ is basically a recent and made up term with a very flexible meaning.

      Even the link between Smoking and Cancer proved for a long time very easy to challenge while it relied on non-causal statistical conclusions. These days medical science has managed to prove the links fairly conclusively by breaking the causal steps down rigorously.

      • One Anonymous Bloke 7.1.1

        Statistical studies can never prove the underlying causal link between the implied causes.

        That’s because proof exists only in pure Mathematics, whereas statistics measure the world.

        • Nic the NZer

          No, its not due to that issue in this particular case.

          Here is a good discussion by experts on this topic,

          Your claim is incorrect however, arguably probabilities (similarly averages, etc…) only exist in pure mathematics where the probability generating process can be modeled with perfect accuracy. In the real world even a well made dice will have some small bias, or worse we don’t know what the probability generating process even looks like.

      • Incognito 7.1.2

        The OP was about comparing the effects of poverty on health with those of high alcohol consumption. My comment was drawing attention to a recent NZ study that argued that the relationship between alcohol and health has so far been missing socio-economic status as an influencing factor – I called it confounding. The urban myth I was referring to, and also subject of that NZ study, is that moderate drinkers have better health than heavy or non-drinkers. This is a well-known myth, isn’t it?

        I am unsure whether your work in (medical) science but if not you (or TS readers) may want to read this:


        I am also not sure to what “readers” you were referring to so I’ll refrain from further response.

        • Nic the NZer

          I was mostly giving you a mild telling off for using a confusing term ‘alternative facts’ when dealing with something which naturally is confusing and leads people into mythology.

          But as the study author is fairly careful to point out, “This makes it hard to conclude whether good health was due to moderate drinking or better socio-economic status,”. The correlation could be causally down to either or both, or even neither factor. You don’t know either way from statistics alone.

          Just going through what is being investigated if you want to look at how influential alcohol consumption is vis a vis higher socioeconomic status are in health (and there-by attributing more or less causal effect to one or the other as a result) then the question becomes what is the space of behaviors being described by this sample of higher socioeconomic status. If they change this may effect the outcome in key ways, because the sampling was actually correlating a particular set of habits and not a particular socioeconomic status. At best, and despite all the efforts of sciences in dealing with statistics, you can only really show there might plausibly be a causal link there. You can’t ever conclude that there is one.

          Its worth highlighting Medical Science is probably the best at dealing with these kinds of issues with using statistics given the complexity of the subject its dealing with and limits on experimentation.

  7. Ad 8

    Speaking of which, the person who practically invented this kind of analysis for all of New Zealand’s DHB’s – Labour candidate Liz Craig – would be more useful way up the list than Willie Jackson. Willie should go for an Auckland region Maori seat – which he could win with his eyes closed – and ensure super-specialists like Liz Craig get well up there.

    If Liz was a Dep Health Minister, such data analysis would be the kind of hurdle-race Treasury budget-bids would have to jump.

  8. Skeptic 9

    Critics will ask “define poverty”. I answer “any household or person trying to live on an income below the independently assessed (by Otago University) “livable wage”. It is abundantly clear that the minimum wage, youth wage, single benefit level, couples benefit level, single pension level, couples pension level are all below the livable wage threshold. No surprise then that poverty levels now affect one quarter of all Kiwis living in their own country. Morally, ethically, and under the little known section of NZ Law – “Legal Convention” where NZ has sign up to international obligations – particularly the UDHR – the NZ Government is in default. Treasury officials who brief the government are in default. WINZ officials are in default. Isn’t it about time someone sued the bastards?

  9. Poission 10

    A new study published in The Lancet has found people who are poor are likely to die sooner than alcoholics or those who are obese.

    There are always exceptions to the rule,how about if you are poor and live on the most toxic land in the world?


    Here home is where the heart is,and an important lesson for enforced relocations and the “palliative powers of home”

  10. One Two 11

    Until open conversation is held about the ‘home truths’ of the monetary and financial systems, nations will continue to be strangled in debt while services continue to be cut and or privatised

    Without the conversation, the negatives will only increase and for greater numbers of people

  11. Michael 12

    I’ve been wondering what a future Labour government would do, if anything, to remedy the problem it bangs on about constantly (to be fair, it is a serious and growing problem). Fortunately, the Southland Times (local rag, although largely put together in cyberspace these days) told us, on the font page of today’s edition (nothing much else on down here). According to it’s associate health spokesperson: “The Labour Party would, over time, restore the $1.7 billion finding that had been cut, as conditions allowed, he said.”
    “Over time” and “as conditions allowed” tells us what we need to know.

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