When one thinks of pursuing a career in the medical field, they might immediately think about taking a variety of science classes and later going on to evaluate patients’ illnesses and prescribe medications following medical school. In reality, however, interpreting human health is not solely a physiological issue but also a socioeconomic one. Although medical care may be crucial for aiding patients, social determinants of health must be taken into account as well. Many socioeconomic factors should be considered when analyzing patients’ overall health. A primary example of one such determinant is an individual or family’s overall income. According to Lynch et al. (2004), the income inequality-health hypothesis is primarily centered on the idea that with greater income comes more positive human health outcomes. (1) Such a correlation is applicable in many areas and for various health issues as well. (1) Consequently, it is evident that the association between income and health outcomes is currently a major issue in medicine.
Understanding the role of one’s overall wealth and income is crucial in analyzing how quickly patients develop illnesses, what type of illnesses said patients develop, etc. It has been observed that low income may contribute in part to the development of poor cholesterol profiles. (2) Elevated blood pressure levels may also result from poorer income. (2) Other physiological systems, including the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and cardiovascular and inflammatory systems, have been believed to be negatively affected by social and environmental issues. (2)
Both social stigma and genetics are also important to analyze in interpreting how one’s income status can influence one’s health. Social stigma is also correlated with income levels. (2) In areas where social stigma is less correlated with the level of income, one’s income was found to have a more limited negative health influence. (2) One’s socioeconomic status can also potentially have a negative genetic impact. (2) Other social factors may also contribute to whether protective or deleterious genes are expressed. (2)
Ultimately, out of all the possible social determinants of health, one of the most important to consider is this: wealth and/or economic status. In analyzing health from this broader social perspective, we can become more aware, well-rounded physicians for others.
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Lynch J, Smith GD, Harper S, et al. Is income inequality a determinant of population health? Part 1. A systematic review. Milbank Q. 2004;82(1):5-99. doi:10.1111/j.0887-378x.2004.00302.x
Braveman P, Gottlieb L. The social determinants of health: it's time to consider the causes of the causes. Public Health Rep. 2014;129 Suppl 2(Suppl 2):19-31. doi:10.1177/00333549141291S206