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What makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise?

June 23, 2011

Whatever makes it happen, the news is that the three of them come together. Which of the following do you believe to be true?

Good health depends on personal choice and responsibility. People who aren’t healthy are to blame because they know better than to abuse alcohol, smoke, eat junk food, and not exercise.

People can be forced into an unhealthy lifestyle. Unsafe communities, stressful working conditions, and lack of access to good food and adequate healthcare are not their fault.

It turns out that both views have a foundation of truth.  But what makes or motivates some people to go to the gym and eat their veggies while others park in front of the TV with a beer and a cigarette? A new study reports amazing findings on the role of social factors in health behaviors.

  • Health: Adults and children with higher incomes are more likely to eat good diets. Adults with lower income and lower education are more likely to smoke. College graduates were almost 3 times as likely to be in very good health as those who didn’t finish high school.
  • Wealth: Families with highest incomes were twice as physically active as those under poverty level. Teenagers in highest income families were 3 times more likely to be physically active.
  • Wisdom: Adults who are college graduates: 2.5 times more likely  to be active than those with less than a high school education.

Healthy, wealthy, and wise – they all go together. Why is that? There are some answers in  “What Shapes Health-Related Behaviors? The Role of Social Factors” the March 2011 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation study that inspired this post.

  • Income and wealth shape access to healthy conditions. Low income neighborhoods lack fresh food grocers and safe places for exercise.
  • Education means more health knowledge, better problem-solving skills, and fewer risky behaviors.
  • Children growing up in stressful conditions are more likely to adopt risky behaviors like smoking and alcohol abuse, which may serve as coping mechanisms.

The article goes on to say “many Americans live and work in circumstances that make healthy living nearly impossible, even when they are informed and motivated.”

Good health directly correlates with wealth and education. Is it fair? What should be done about it? Here’s a few ideas from that report:

  • We must move beyond the insufficient step of providing information, and improve the conditions in people’s homes, schools, and workplaces.
  • Promoting programs such as Earned Income Tax Credit, minimum wage, and Early Head Start programs can give people the ability to make better choices.
  • Local programs can help to increase fresh food access and reduce desserts for children.
  • Consider universal free breakfast at schools.
  • Observe physical education requirements in schools.
  • Provide more accessible and safe walking and bicycling routes in communities.

10 recommendations to dramatically improve the health for all Americans:

For further study, there are over 70 references in this RWJF study. Here is the link again:

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is a non-profit committed to building a healthier America.

Author opinion: While it’s our individual responsibility to take care of our health, not everyone has equal access to healthy behaviors. It becomes the responsibility of society to help people be healthy. The quality of life in America depends on it.

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