‘Silent Killer’ Ends More American Lives Than Obesity, Drug ODs‘Silent Killer’ Ends More American Lives Than Obesity, Drug ODs

By Adriana Diaz

Closing the wealth gap is a matter of life and death.

Poverty is the nation’s fourth leading cause of death, killing an estimated 183,000 Americans aged 15 and up in 2019, according to new findings published on Monday.

“Poverty kills as much as dementia, accidents, stroke, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes. Poverty silently killed 10 times as many people as all the homicides in 2019. And yet, homicide firearms and suicide get vastly more attention,” said the study’s lead author David Brady, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Riverside.

Poverty now falls just behind heart disease, cancer and smoking, earning it the “silent killer” moniker as such a statistic has historically been difficult to define.

While poverty — defined as earning less than 50% of the median US income — has generally been linked to a shorter life expectancy, this study is among the first to quantify the number of deaths directly attributable to poverty, which entails not only hunger and malnutrition but also a lack of access to doctors and life-saving medicine, as well as a greater likelihood of negative environmental factors and exposures that put stress on their health.

“If we had less poverty, there’d be a lot better health and wellbeing, people could work more, and they could be more productive,” urged Brady. “All of those are benefits of investing in people through social policies.”

Meanwhile, suicides, firearms, homicides, obesity, diabetes and drug overdoses all led to a significant number of deaths in 2019, but they were all found to be less fatal than the condition of poverty.

More specifically, the study furthermore revealed that people living in poverty had a similar survival rate until they reached their 40s, when they begin to die at significantly higher rates than their wealthier contemporaries.

However, survival rates did begin to reconverge when people hit their 70s.

The numbers are believed to be a “conservative” estimate, researchers said, noting that their findings consisted of data recorded just before the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw a spike in death rates across all demographics and put a strain on our economy, health care systems and other life-saving resources.

“Everything suggests that poverty-associated mortality got much worse during COVID,” said Brady. “Poverty was clearly an exacerbating factor of COVID-related death. So, I would expect that poverty-associated mortality increased considerably after 2019.”

Previous studies have shown that those experiencing poverty are at an increased risk of issues such as mental illness, chronic disease, higher mortality and lower life expectancy.

Unfortunately, the US poverty rate increased to 11.4% — about 37.2 million people — in 2020 after five consecutive years of being in decline.

This also comes as the US lags behind most wealthy nations in life expectancy.

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