An important message on health

Published 10:28 pm Monday, November 7, 2016

Angelica Light, interim executive director of the Obici Healthcare Foundation, shared some sobering insights about the city during the Suffolk Foundation’s Community Forum and Luncheon at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts last week.

The thrust of her keynote address at the event, which celebrated several years worth of the philanthropic efforts of the foundation, was this: There’s more to the physical health of a community than the statistics regarding obesity, diabetes, heart disease and the like, and the decisions about things that affect the community’s economic prospects — in particular education — can have wide-ranging and surprising effects on its physical health.

“Education has been repeatedly shown to be the primary determinant of income,” she said, adding that the health differences between low-income and high-income households are stark.

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Low-income families, she noted, tend to eat poorly, forgo exercise and skip medication. They often live in unhealthy housing or in dangerous neighborhoods, and their lack of transportation can limit access to medical care, healthy food choices and exercise opportunities.

And, she added, “financial hardship is correlated with higher rates of stress and depression.”

All of this, Light said, translates into lower life expectancy for those who have financial hardships, compared to those who do not.

Policies that affect educational opportunities, therefore, can be seen as directly impacting the future health of people in the community.

Light encouraged the Suffolk Foundation to continue its work to help build successful collaboration among government, business and nonprofit community organizations to improve Suffolk’s health. She also encouraged Suffolk leaders to recognize the return on investment the city would achieve by addressing inequities in education, transportation and employment.

It was an important message, delivered by a person in a position to recognize the stakes at hand. We hope those in attendance — some of the city’s most influential leaders in all of those circles — will take her message to heart.