Paul R. Lehman, Study shows poor women’s health affected by housing

October 23, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Posted in equality, fairness, minority, Prejudice | 1 Comment
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The Associated Press
recently ran an article by Mike Stobbe that stated the “poor are more likely to
be ill.” The article, “Study ties wellness to housing location,” recounts a
housing program of the 1990’s sponsored by the government that “offered
thousands of poor women in big-city housing a chance to live in more affluent
neighborhoods.” The study showed that a decade later, the women who were
relocated had lower rates of diabetes and extreme obesity.” In other words,
where one lives and one’s social-economic status can affect one’s health.

The program was initiated to discover “whether moving
impoverished families to more prosperous areas could improve employment or
schooling. But according to a study released Wednesday {10-19-11}, the most
interesting effect may have been on the women’s physical condition.” In
essence, the study suggests that where one lives can have an effect on one’s
health “especially if your home is in a low-income area with few safe places to
exercise, limited food options and meager medical services.” Most people using
common sense can reason that social conditions usually accompany each other
like poor housing, unemployment, high crime, violence, little educational
opportunities. These elements are common in areas of high concentration of
ethnic groups at the bottom of the social ladder—usually African Americans and
Hispanics, but not limited to them.

Stobbs’ article notes that “‘This study proves that
concentrated poverty is not only bad policy, it’s bad for your health,’ Shaun
Donovan, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.” Later
in the article, we note that the study suggests some interesting findings:”Ten
years later, the women who moved to richer areas had the lowest rates of
extreme obesity and diabetes.” The conclusion was that “The difference suggests
that a person’s risk of diabetes or extreme obesity dropped by about 20 percent
by moving to a higher-income neighborhood.” We are told that the study was not
designed to answer why these changes occurred.

Before we close the book on this report and conclude that
the government or social agencies should start making plans to try and place
every poor woman living in big-city housing in an affluent neighborhood, we
need to consider another important fact—the mental health of these women.
Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett wrote in their bestseller, The Spirit Level, that according to
their research that “Generally, living in a poorer area is associated with
worse health. Members of ethnic minorities who live in areas where there are few like
themselves tend to be more affluent, and to live in better neighbourhoods, than
those who live in areas with higher concentration.” They continued, “So to find
that these more ethnically isolated individuals are sometimes less healthy is
surprising. The probable explanation is that, through the eyes of the majority
community, they become more aware of belonging to a low-status minority group
and perhaps encounter more frequent prejudice and discrimination and have less

By simply looking at the results of the study reported by
Stobbs we might be led to conclude that all was well with the women and their
families who made the move to the affluent areas. Wilkinson and Pickett,
however, notes “That the psychological effects of stigma are sometimes strong
enough to override the health benefits of material advantages tells us a lot
about the power of inequality and bring us back to the importance of social
status, social support and friendship, and influence of social anxiety and
stigma….” While the study reported on the physical health of the women, no
mention was made regarding their mental well-being and those of her family.

African Americans have historically been negatively affected
by society’s view of them in various forms of bigotry, discrimination, and
prejudice. The areas of education, employment, housing, medicine and politics
have been the focus of social areas where the negative actions have occurred.
All those areas affect the sense of value or self worth of most individuals,
but especially minority ethnic Americans. Since the study focused only on the
physical health of the women, we have no way of knowing the state of their
mental well-being. One might surmise that if these women were welcomed into their
communities and made to feel a sense of value as a fellow human being, then
chances are their mental state is good. However, if they were made to feel a
social difference, especially a feeling of inferiority in comparison to the
majority population, then life for them is not very pleasant and probably
accompanied by much stress.

The fact that African Americans as well as Hispanics are
generally seen as being at the bottom of the social ladder regarding value or
worth goes without saying. That view is not, however, how the African Americans
and Hispanics view themselves, but how others might view them based on social
history. A sense of community that offers protection and comfort from the
negative experiences of the majority has always been an important element of
the ethnic community. In essence, when one is totally estranged from one’s usual
community, some feelings of anxiety and stress are naturally expected. So, to
conduct a study that takes women away from their community and places them in a
totally different environment and expect no mental consequences is foolhardy.

No one will question the merit of good research that seeks
to examine social activities such as those experiences affecting health of the
women in the study. What can be misleading about the results of such research
studies is the interpretation of the results of such studies. Certainly, the physical
health of the women in the study is important; however, because of the mental
impact of these women leaving their familiar community for one that represents an
extreme difference, the results of their mental well-being should be equally
important. The importance becomes more significant when we realize that the
elements of social self-worth and self-value will be in play.

1 Comment »

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  1. It seems to me that many people think of African Americans as either being very rich or very poor. They cite the wealth of Oprah, Tiger Woods, Bill Cosby, et al. Of course, some do fall in between–in the middle income group. The trend today, however, is for all Americans to be moving into the extremes in one direction or the oher. Therefore, we can reasonably expect some African Americans will be richer while many will be poorer.

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