Researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) discovered that wealth plays a crucial role in seeking preventive healthcare. However, this was a secondary find, as their primary focus was on the concept of biomarkers predicting the development of health problems and the need for future treatments.
It is quite common for studies to find that, if left unaddressed, chronic stress and negativity can lead to developing severe health problems. An unfortunate modern reality is that much of chronic stress has direct ties with socioeconomic inequalities.
A new study — which appears in the December 2020 issue of Economics & Human Biology — adds to this body of evidence.
Lead study author Dr. Apostolos Davillas from the UEA’s Norwich Medical School explains, “We [found] that people’s biological health is linked with future demand on healthcare services, such as GP and outpatient consultations, as well as time spent in the hospital.”
Dr. Davillas led a team that studied blood biomarkers. Their intended goal was determining if biological health could predict disease and the need for future medical treatments.
Dr. Davillas and his team set out to focus on blood markers to predict future health problems. However, the byproduct of their research concerning wealth also came with crucial implications.
Before drawing their conclusions, the UEA team examined biomarkers for 5,286 people, who were the participants in academic research for “Understanding Society,” the UK Household Longitudinal Study.
Researchers examined multiple facets of health data, including liver and kidney function, resting heart rate, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and lung strength. The team also considered inflammation and how their bodies reacted to infections or chronic stress.
Ultimately, the study results revealed biological clues acting as indicators of future health problems.
According to Dr. Davillas: “What we found is that underlying biomarker differences have links with future disability, and that we could actually predict people’s level of disability in 5 years’ time, based on the biomarkers in their blood.
“We tried to investigate the mechanism for why this happens and found that people with impaired biological health may develop [a] disability in 5 years’ time, resulting in increased healthcare and social needs.”
When looking through the data, Dr. Davillas and his team were able to observe wealth as a factor in participant behavior and future medical needs. Additionally, the harsh impact of wealth disparity on the quality of access to healthcare plans and treatment also played a role.
In an earlier study, Dr. Davillas linked biomarkers for stress to a person’s socioeconomic status. Though this research initially focused on blood markers as predictors for future health, his team could draw from previous studies linking wealth and health.
This research seems to validate perceptions that wealth correlates with a person’s willingness to engage general practitioners for preventive care. It also indicates that healthcare professionals are far more willing to enable the very wealthy to receive as much care as possible.
The situation is problematic, as lower-income patients inevitably require frequent medical treatment in the future, due to greater chronic stress and fewer available preventative measures.
Dr. Davillas comments, “In a publicly-funded healthcare system, pro-rich inequity in healthcare use may be because people on lower low-incomes are heavily time-constrained due to harsher employment and living arrangements, and may be more constrained in seeking the healthcare they need.”
Proper self-care through breathing exercises or meditation can help reduce stress and aid in improving a person’s overall health. Still, it is unfair for vulnerable people to take on the brunt of responsibility for formulating preventative care strategies.
It is crucial to openly acknowledge the harsh reality of the role that wealth inequality plays in the lack of substantial access to healthcare.
If members of the medical community work to prioritize all people in the name of preventative care, it allows for a better quality of life for all. This could also help keep the healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed by an influx of unhealthful low-income individuals.
A combination of community outreach, education, and consideration could make a much-needed difference to the future health of members of society, regardless of their income.