Your health depends on many factors, such as the quality of food you eat, what you put on your body, what you breathe, what chemicals you are exposed to, how much exercise you get every day, and more. While there is a considerable amount of control that comes with each of these factors, there can also be an unfortunate lack of it — depending on where you live.
I live in the beautiful northwestern city, Boise, the capital of the state of Idaho. In the last few years, Boise has been listed as one of the fastest growing cities in the United States. But that’s not all it’s known for. The City of Trees sits in the Treasure Valley, surrounded by mountains that offer skiing excursions, thousands of hiking routes of all levels, and rivers and lakes where you can go boating, kayaking, floating, swimming, and fishing.
The food culture is incredible. Local restaurants seem to pop up everyday, many prioritizing local and ethical sourcing, some fully vegan or vegetarian, and almost all serving high-quality, delicious foods that residents will not only enjoy but will feel great after eating.
These are just a few factors that make Boise a great home for its residents, not only for entertainment and happiness, but for their health as well.
Unfortunately, not every city in the U.S. is as wholesome and thriving as Boise. Where Boise has rivers and lakes, other towns have toxic water that cannot be played in and requires extensive treatment to be drinkable. Where Boise has many opportunities for hiking, biking, and walking, other cities don’t have access to trails or safe places to do them. Where Boise has high-quality restaurants and grocery stores, other towns have food deserts and only fast food options.
These are just a few examples of how where you live can impact your health, but other variables, such as poor housing conditions and low access to healthcare, can make it virtually impossible to stay healthy.
If you search for grocery stores in Boise online, you will find seven pages of results. This includes large chain stores, such as Wal-Mart, majority employee-owned stores, such as Winco, and more than a few specialized culture stores, like Thana’s Little World Market and Babylon Market. For those who value organic foods, there is Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and plenty of markets to visit. Luckily, there is no shortage of access to food in Boise, but this is not so in many other towns and cities in the country.
The American Nutrition Association defines food deserts as: “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas.” They explain that “This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers.” Those who live in food deserts have a difficult time even finding healthy food to eat and feed their families.
People who live in food deserts would have to drive at least 30 minutes — and even up to a couple hours — to find fresh, healthy foods to buy. Since these areas are typically impoverished, it makes it virtually impossible for these families to spend the gas money to get out of town just to buy groceries.
Additionally, according to a report on food deserts, they can have up to 2.5 times the exposure to fast food restaurants. This makes it easy for parents to stop by McDonald’s on the way home to get dinner off the dollar menu to feed their kids. This increases the rate of chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes in these areas. In fact, the report states that “in Chicago, the death rate from diabetes in a food desert is twice that of areas with access to grocery stores.”
Livable wages and access to grocery stores could significantly boost such communities. If residents had livable wages, they would have more money to invest not only in healthy foods but in their communities. These towns could be just as thriving and healthy as cities like Boise without the burden of poverty looming over them. Higher minimum wages, living wages, and affordable education could all help these communities.
Poor housing conditions are also a huge barrier to good health for many people across the country.. For example, people who experience homelessness have higher rates of mental and physical health problems and mortality. This can affect even well-developed areas like Boise, where over 700 people experience homelessness, according to the Boise/Ada Homeless Coalition.
Additionally, a report on housing conditions and health states that “people who are not chronically homeless but face housing instability (in the form of moving frequently, falling behind on rent, or couchsurfing) are more likely to experience poor health in comparison to their stably housed peers.”
This can be further propelled by poor communities where citizens have a hard time saving on their winter heating bills — and some struggle to pay it at all. In fact, the Centre for Sustainable Energy states that people who struggle to pay their heating bills and have cold homes as a result can struggle with the related negative impacts on their health. These can take the form of high blood pressure, heart attacks, and pneumonia.
Additionally, those with pre-existing health conditions, such as diabetes, depression, asthma, and more, can be especially vulnerable to the adverse effects of the cold — especially since cold homes are more likely to be damp, which can result in mold.
Citizens deserve the right to have affordable access to a stable, warm home. Again, fair and livable wages can help with this. Citizens who work should be able to afford a home that offers them shelter from the outside world, including illnesses.
Healthcare System Failings
A third factor that has a drastic impact on Americans’ health is healthcare. Many across the country believe that the healthcare system in this country falls short of what its citizens deserve — and enough people across the country suffer on a daily basis to prove it. And where you live is directly tied to the kind and quality of healthcare you are likely to receive.
Another issue plaguing the country is the healthcare gap. There is a considerable gap between low-income families who qualify for government programs like Medicaid and low-income families that don’t qualify and aren’t offered insurance at work or can’t afford it. This affects many hardworking families whose wages lie in between for myriad reasons, and is especially true in states that have chosen not to expand Medicaid.
In Idaho, for example, many families are impacted by the healthcare gap. This includes parents who cannot work because they need to support a parent, child, or sibling with a disability typically find themselves in these situations. They work night and day to protect the health of their family, but this costs them their own healthcare. And it shouldn’t.
What’s more, this issue doesn’t just affect hardworking adults (and those unable to work but who deserve healthcare just as much); it affects children as well. A report on child health in the United States reveals that the U.S. ranks 26 out of the world’s wealthiest 29 countries for child well-being. The report additionally states the following facts on child health:
- About one third of children in the U.S. are overweight or obese.
- A fifth of adolescents are diagnosed with a mental disorder.
- Almost 75 percent of high school students don’t meet basic standards for physical activity participation.
- Over 200,000 Americans under 20 years old have been diagnosed with diabetes.
Geography again plays a key role in the status of children’s health.
It is essential that every citizen, whether they live in a food desert in Chicago or a health-promoting city like Boise, speak up and support healthcare. By working together, advocating for America’s health, and securing livable wages for all citizens, we can ensure that everyone can live a health life anywhere in the U.S.