Proper nutrition, especially during early childhood development, is a key determinant of health for establishing a child’s short-and long-term health outcomes. Any developmental gaps that appear in early childhood grow wider if left unaddressed. Without adequate nutrition, a child grows up with a weakened immune system, which contributes to a vicious cycle of infection and undernourishment that makes children more vulnerable to disease and death.
For children who avoid undernourishment or malnutrition and survive past their fifth birthday, the two-way relationship between poverty and health continues to harm them. Growing up in poverty increases the emotional and physical stress in a child’s life and can cause mental health issues. Aside from the worry, fear, insecurity and vulnerability, feelings of being unsafe and constant threats of violence and exploitation can place a child into constant survival mode. Prolonged survival mode experiences can cause negative changes in a child's immune, neuroendocrine and cortical systems, which can have long-term consequences for overall well-being, decision-making and learning.
The Health-Poverty Trap
How Does Poor Health Contribute to a Person's Inability to Escape Poverty?
Poor health makes it extremely difficult to escape poverty. Poor health reduces a family’s opportunity and ability to work and generate income. In most areas experiencing extreme levels of child poverty, there is no health insurance or access to health care. This means that when a child is sick, families may have to sell their assets to afford treatment. This increases the hold poverty has on the family and makes the family even more vulnerable to hardship.
When a family lacks economic resources, the children become vulnerable to exploitation, such as trafficking and child labor. Assuming they avoid the predatory violence directed against children, the children often grow into adults that pass on the cycle of low education, low wages and poverty to their children.
How Does Access to Health Care Help Reduce Poverty?
Access to health care facilitates good health through regular medical checkups, regular oral and vision care, vaccinations, basic and emergency medical treatments, medicine and lifesaving surgeries.
With access to affordable health care, proper nutrition, clean water and proper sanitation and hygiene facilities, good health gives a poor child the ability to survive long enough to complete primary school, obtain a higher education, earn a higher wage, and eventually pass this success onto his or her own children.