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Study: When It Comes To Health, Your Neighborhood's Poverty May Matter More Than Your Own

Dec 21, 2017

Scientific research has demonstrated that, in general, the richer a person is, the healthier he or she is likely to be. Likewise, those with private insurance tend to be healthier than those on Medi-Cal. A new study, however, suggests neighborhood-level poverty may be even more important.

If you’re a child on Medi-Cal, you’re worse off living in a poor community than an affluent one. That is one of the findings in a new study out this week in the research publication Journal of Asthma.

Neighborhood-level factors are already known to impact individual health, but this study attempts to determine how much.

Emanuel Alcala, lead author and a researcher at both Fresno State and UC Merced, says health disparities between rich and poor, or between Medi-Cal and privately insured patients, are more pronounced when the neighborhood itself is poor.

"We still find that the level of poverty at your community has independent effects of asthma morbidity beyond those individual characteristics and associations," he says.

The findings arise from an analysis of asthma-related hospitalization and emergency room data among San Joaquin Valley kids.

Alcala hypothesizes these trends could have something to do with what he calls a neighborhood's social disorder—things like violence, drugs, and trash.

"In communities where there’s more social order, this might provide protective effects in the association between air quality and asthma," Alcala says, "and in communities where there’s more social disorder, the same amount of air quality might produce higher rates of asthma."

The research is ongoing and is part of a long-term study of the social determinants of health in the Valley.