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Effects of Poverty

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Poverty is the state of being without the necessities of daily living, and often associated with need, hardship and lack of resources across a wide range of circumstances. Poverty has wide-ranging and often devastating effects. Many of its effects, such as malnutrition and starvation, exposure to infectious diseases and mental illness and dependence to drug, result directly from having too little income or too few resources. As a result of poor nutrition and health problems, infant mortality rates among the poor are higher than average, and life expectancies are lower than average.

Malnutrition is one of the most common effects of poverty. In developing countries, the poorest people cannot obtain adequate calories to develop or maintain their appropriate body weight. Poor children in developing countries often suffer the most, commonly from a deficiency known as protein-energy malnutrition. In this condition, children lack protein in their diets, especially from an insufficient amount of mother’s milk. As a result, children who are under nourishment are faced with stunted growth, poor mental development, and high rates of infection. Prolonged malnutrition can lead to starvation, a condition in which the body’s tissues and organs deteriorate. Long-term starvation almost always results in death. In addition to caloric malnutrition, most poor children and adults suffer from severe vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

These deficiencies can lead to mental disorders, damage to vital organs, and poor vision among many others. Even in the major cities of developed nations, the poor often have unhealthful diets. Resulting in part from a lack of health care and nutritional education and in part from the lower availability and higher cost of better-quality foods, the urban poor tend to eat too much of the wrong kinds of foods. The urban poor commonly eat foods that are fatty or fried, high in sugar and salt, and made of mostly processed carbohydrates. Their diets are often high in low-grade fatty meats, chips, candies, and desserts and low in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and high-quality lean meats and fish. Such diets commonly cause obesity and hypertension, both of which can contribute to heart disease and other ailments.

In addition to the effects of malnutrition and starvation, the poor experience high rates of infectious disease. Inadequate shelter or housing
creates conditions that promote diseases. Without decent protection, many of the poor are exposed to severe and dangerous weather as well as to bacteria and viruses carried by other people and animals. In the tropics, monsoons and hurricanes can destroy the weakly built shelters of the poor. Once exposed, people are vulnerable to fluctuations in temperature that lower their resistance to disease. They also are more likely to become infected with diseases carried by insects or rodents. For instance, mosquitoes carry malaria, a debilitating disease that is common in the tropics. In arid regions, drought leaves the poor without clean water for drinking or bathing. In temperate climates, including the major cities of developed countries, homelessness is a growing problem.

Many of the homeless poor are harmed by or die of exposure to extreme winter cold. Inadequate sanitation and unhygienic practices among the poor also lead to illness. Since the poor in developing nations commonly have no running water or sewage facilities, human excrement and garbage accumulate, quickly becoming a breeding ground for disease. In cities, especially in ghettoes and shantytowns that house only poor people, overcrowding leads to high transmission rates of airborne diseases, such as tuberculosis. The poor are also often uneducated about the spread of diseases, notably sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). As a result, the incidence of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) among poor people is higher than average. Along with the problem of a high incidence of disease, developing countries also have shortages of doctors. Medicine and treatment are often both scarce and too expensive for the poor. In rural areas of developing countries many people cannot get to doctors located in urban areas. In developed countries, the poor may have no health insurance, making the costs of health care unaffordable.

Consequently, the rates of mental illness in most developed countries are highest among the poor. The most common disorders associated with poverty are depression and anxiety disorders. Without meaningful, well-paying work and the resources and social affirmation that come with it, many poor people develop low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness. People who are stressed by the uncertainty of where they will get their next meal or spend the night often develop high anxiety. Because the poor experience high rates of severe mental illness, they also have high rates of suicide. Some poor people attempt to relieve feelings of anxiety and depression associated with poverty through the use of mind-altering drugs. A common drug among the poor is alcohol, which is legal and affordable. Many of those who drink develop alcoholism, becoming physically and emotionally dependent on drinking. Others use and often become addicted to more dangerous and often illegal drugs, such as heroin, and cocaine. Of these drug users, those who take drugs by injection and share needles with others, also suffer from high rates of diseases transmitted through blood and other bodily fluids, including AIDS.

Thus, people who grow up in poverty may experience life long problems because of it. They are at a disadvantage in things such as education because they have limited income and resources. All children also need adequate nutrition and health care for good physical and mental development, and poor children are often malnourished and sick from a young age. Mental illness and drug dependence demonstrate the difficulties of distinguishing between poverty’s causes and its effects. Mentally ill and drug-dependent people tend to have trouble holding steady jobs and maintaining relationships, causing them to fall into poverty. They may also have difficulty lifting themselves out of poverty. In addition, poverty tends to perpetuate itself. In many cases, those who had poor parents are poor themselves, earning lower-than-average incomes. They may also have learned a mindset that keeps them from getting out of poverty. All of these negative long term effects are much more likely to occur if children experience prolonged poverty, an unfortunate circumstance much more likely to affect minority children.

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