“We asked questions that no one else was asking,” Common Ground Health CEO Wade Norwood said of a report his organization released Monday.
“Folks were honest with us in a way we did not expect,” he said.
The results of the survey provide the strongest evidence yet of a link between poverty and poor health outcomes in the Finger Lakes, Norwood said.
“More years of life are lost to health inequity than all forms of cancer combined,” the report found.
Norwood said many people have known intuitively that poverty is destructive to health, but now there’s data to confirm the suspicion.
The study shows that “health disparities are real; that they exist by race, ethnicity and income; and that they cannot be explained away simply by looking at the behavior of individuals,” said Norwood.
Poverty wipes an average of 8 years off the life expectancy of people in high-poverty neighborhoods compared to those with low rates of poverty, Common Ground Health found.
Neighborhoods can trap people in poverty and harm their health. Many lack grocery stores and dependable bus service. People don’t have money or time to afford quality medical care. Mental health suffers, as well.
“When they talk to us about their mental health, these are the words they’re using: The folks in poverty are feeling anger, helplessness, and destructive behavior,” Norwood said.
Leonard Brock, who leads the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative, said Common Ground Health’s new data shows that local leaders have been making decisions about how to address poverty without listening to the people who are living it.
“There are decisions being made every single day, and the question becomes, what information is being used to make those decisions,” Brock said. “In the absence of the data from the people impacted by poverty, you’re making decisions on behalf of your own self-interest – opinions that are not necessarily substantiated.”
Common Ground Health said it does not yet have a specific plan to address the health problems its research has linked to poverty, but Norwood says any solution has to include changes in government, in local organizations, and in individual attitudes toward poverty and health.
Norwood said those changes should focus on prevention, instead of addressing health problems as they appear. “The aim here is for our community to have a greater focus on what are the things driving health inequity,” he said. “The swath of poverty across the Finger Lakes region is wide, and it is deep.”