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The Side Effects of Poverty

I've spent half a century writing for radio and print (mostly print). I hope to still be tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

Poor people tend to get the worst of everything, so it’s very, very difficult for them to drag themselves out of poverty. In general, they have worse health outcomes, lower quality education services, and live in more crime-ridden and dysfunctional communities.

With all that is stacked against them, poor people have a lower life expectancy than those in the middle and upper classes.

Food Deficiencies

Poor nutrition goes hand-in-glove with poverty. Poor people can’t afford to buy a lot of pricey, protein-rich foods, such as meat, poultry, seafood, and dairy.

The San Francisco Chronicle points out why protein is important: “Kids’ brains need protein to function properly. A healthy diet including high-quality sources of protein will allow your child’s brain to grow and develop. Learning occurs in the brain, but the brain also tells your body what do to, such as moving a muscle, breathing, and telling your heart to beat. All of these actions require protein.”

For the poverty-stricken, empty calories form a major part of their diets.

For the poverty-stricken, empty calories form a major part of their diets.

A study published in The British Medical Journal showed a link between a diet high in sugars, fats, and processed foods and lower IQ scores in children.

So, a poor child raised on a low-protein diet enters kindergarten lagging in brain development. Learning is more difficult, so kids from poor families tend to get squeezed out of academic streams that lead to university.

Farther down the road, that means low-skill, low-paying jobs, and a continuation of the poverty cycle.

Political scientist Charles Murray is co-author of the 1996 book The Bell Curve that discusses the link between intelligence and wealth. He says in a podcast interview that “The Bell Curve sensitized me to the extent to which high IQ is pure luck. We live in a society that is tailor-made for high IQs, and people who got the short end of the stick . . . deserve our admiration and support if they do everything right.”

Low-income families substitute good-quality food such as fresh fruits and vegetables with cheap, energy-dense foods that are filling. So, there’s high consumption of “packaged snack foods, frosted cakes with filling, cookies, and candies. Traditional fast foods such as cheeseburgers, fried chicken, and French fries, and bakery items such as doughnuts are famous for their energy density” (North Carolina State University).

Such foods take away the pangs of hunger, but they do little to provide the nutrients our bodies need. However, you should not be under the impression that poor people don’t know any better. Here’s The Conversation: “Contrary to popular belief, people who are experiencing food poverty are not ignorant of what they should eat as part of a healthy diet or even where to buy affordable food. There is a wealth of research showing that the most important factor for having a healthy diet is access to affordable healthy food.”

The Wealthier Are Healthier

The World Health Organization says that poverty is the single most important factor causing poor health. is an organization that promotes sustainable development. It says that “Poverty and disease are stuck in an ongoing, vicious relationship. One goes a long way towards intensifying the other with studies demonstrating that infection rates of certain diseases are highest in regions where poverty is rife.”

For the millions living in extreme poverty (less than $1.90 a day), there is the ever-present threat of death by starvation. The United Nations estimates that 25,000 people die of hunger every day.

Dying from lack of food does happen in the developed world, but it rarely happens. In rich countries, obesity is the big killer, and this happens more among the poor than among those with money.

As already noted, poor people tend to eat more sugary, fatty, and energy-dense foods. These have the effect of causing people to gain weight. Being obese contributes to heart disease and diabetes. But, this isn’t the whole story.

Being poor in a rich country means having fewer choices about things that affect health. Lower-quality housing has a negative effect on health, so does overcrowding. Poor living conditions make mental health issues worse and cause people to turn to alcohol and drugs to lift their moods.

The Evidence Network notes that certain types of cancer “are higher among Canadians with lower incomes. Evidence has shown that some of this is associated with higher rates of smoking and obesity . . . ” The group also quotes research that says wealthier people have better cancer treatment options than the poor.

The fact-checking group in the United Kingdom points out that poverty affects life expectancy: “Boys born in some of the poorest areas in the U.K. are expected to live nine years fewer than those in the very richest areas. For girls the figure is seven years.”

And, according to Canada Without Poverty, a McMaster University study, “found a 21-year difference in life expectancy between inhabitants of the poorest neighbourhood and those in the wealthiest neighbourhood in Hamilton, Ontario.”

Similar life expectancy gaps have been found in most Western industrialized countries.

Crime and Violence

Aristotle, the philosopher of ancient Greece, wrote that “Poverty is the parent of crime.” (That quote is attributed to several other people).

Swedish academic Amir Sariaslan has some evidence to support Aristotle’s statement 2,300 years later.

He and colleagues gathered data on half a million Scandinavian teenagers and their criminal behaviour. Writing about the study, The Economist noted, “In Sweden the age of criminal responsibility is 15, so Mr. Sariaslan tracked his subjects from the dates of their 15th birthdays onwards, for an average of three-and-a-half years."

The findings were quite stark. Kids growing up in poor neighbourhoods "were seven times more likely to be convicted of violent crimes" than the same cohort from wealthy communities. With drug crimes, the multiple was two times.

Other researchers say there is a genetic component to criminality, and that the genes associated with bad behaviour are found more frequently in those who live in poverty. The theory is that crime and poor attitudes lower the earning power of people.

And, Statistics Canada reports that “problems such as litter; people sleeping on the streets; loud parties; harassment and attacks motivated by racial intolerance; drug use and trafficking; loitering and vandalism were reported twice as often by the lowest income group compared to the highest income group.”

Poor people exist outside mainstream society, a condition philosopher Thomas Hobbes described in the 17th century as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

Bonus Factoids

  • According to Our World in Data, “In 1820, there were just under 1.1 billion people in the world, of which more than one billion lived in extreme poverty.”
  • As of 2015, 705.55 million people in the world out of a total population of 7.6 billion were living in extreme poverty, defined as having an income of less than $1.90 per day.
  • The Social Gradient is explained by the World Health Organization: “If you look at under-five mortality rates by levels of household wealth you see that within countries the relation between socioeconomic level and health is graded. The poorest have the highest under-five mortality rates, and people in the second highest quintile of household wealth have higher mortality in their offspring than those in the highest quintile. This is the social gradient in health.”


  • “The Conservative Case for a Guaranteed Income.” Margaret Wente, Globe and Mail, August 3, 2018.
  • “Diseases and the Links to Poverty.”, undated.
  • “Role of Protein in Brain Function for Kids.” San Francisco Chronicle, undated.
  • “Energy Dense Foods.” Rutherford County Center, NCSU, August 2017.
  • “Poor Diet Is the Result of Poverty Not Lack of Education.” Lynne Kennedy, The Conversation, May 6, 2014.
  • “Poor Childhood Diet Linked to Low IQ, Study Suggests.” Nathan Grey, Food, February 8, 2011.
  • “Backgrounder: The Impact of Poverty on Health.” Carolyn Shimmin, The Evidence Network, undated.
  • “Life Expectancy and Poverty.”, July 18, 2016.
  • “To Have and Have Not.” The Economist, August 21, 2014.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Rupert Taylor


Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on October 15, 2018:

@gyanendra, I agreed. Rupert needs emulating. Thank you.

gyanendra mocktan from Kathmandu,Nepal on October 15, 2018:

Robert, you have not only spent 50 years of writing but you are one of the finest people in your heart.

Thank you.

Rupert Taylor (author) from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada on September 30, 2018:

Thanks Mr. Happy

Over my five decades in journalism I've written this article or others similar to it many, many times, and yet, it seems, nothing much changes. I have come to see some truth in comedian George Carlin's observation that the purpose of the poor is "To scare the s**t out of the middle class;" that it serves the needs of corporations to have a permanent and desperate pool of people whose function is to depress wages.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on September 29, 2018:

@Mr Happy, you are welcomed. Good day. As you had seen and experienced poverty first hand, do whatever you can to stop that evil to attack your children. Keep a good legacy for them to build on. Thank you.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on September 29, 2018:

Hi, Rupert, nice work in researching and writing about that. I will be looking out at any time and the first to read! Happy hubbing, and thanks.

Mr. Happy from Toronto, Canada on September 28, 2018:

"Poor people can’t afford to buy a lot of pricey, protein-rich foods, such as meat, poultry, seafood, and dairy." - Very well said. One of my biggest expenses is food because I treat food as medicine. What I eat becomes my body/me. Thus, I am pretty particular about what I allow to become "me".

"Learning is more difficult" - Ya ... I remember being at school, in class hungry and I couldn't focus much. Not with my stomach gurgling and twisting. Being hungry more often than not certainly doesn't help learning.

"Poor living conditions make mental health issues worse and cause people to turn to alcohol and drugs to lift their moods." - This is another critical observation You made, in my opinion. Poor people often have next to nothing to look forward to so, sex and drugs are the main forms of entertainment.

"Poor people exist outside mainstream society" - Pretty much. That's why I titled one of my pieces of writing: "Ghetto for Life: The Subculture". Ghettos are mostly ignored by the wealthy and by politicians. Once in a while a bone is thrown but that's about it.

I appreciate this article. Thank You very much for writing it and thank You for thinking about the poor people out there.

May Wakan Tanka guide your path.

Rupert Taylor (author) from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada on September 28, 2018:

Yes Miekakagh, my focus in this piece is on the developed world. It's where I live and where I wonder why rich, as we are, we can't do much about reducing poverty. Developing world poverty is a different issue and one I may turn to at some time.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on September 28, 2018:

Hey, Rupert, this is an accurate researched article. It focuses more on developed industrialist countries, but leave out the so-called third world countries. You can correct me if I am wrong.

As you stated authority, poor people can have the same access to the fast foods the rich indulged in but do not have the money to treat health risks like cancer, I had seen the same experiment happen in my area.

So if you class a country like Nigeria, as the number 5 or 6 poorest countries in the world, an African head of state will object to the statistic used in the computation. Not long ago, Olusegun Obasanjo, a retired military general and a President of Nigeria for two consequent terms of eight years, voiced against such studies, wondering why it does not reflect the African background.

Let me reiterate here. I am a middle-income earner and a retired Chief Administrative Officer in the civil service. I am in a position to see how poverty rolls its ugly head. You are right that poor persons paid more attention to energy-laden foods. But when it comes to health delivering foods like fruits, vegetables, and proteins, poor people have a poor knowledge regarding these food items. Although these are the cheapest food items in the markets, they tend to disregard them or paid less attention to them in the chop plate.

Traditionally, fruits and vegetables seem to be the main ingredient for meal making. Westernization has eroded them to the back. Junk foods are rich and healthy. Buying them shows you have got the money.

Enough of all these now. But if you go to any village, you will see the very poor eating healthier meals: fruits, veggies, protein, roots, spices, nuts and seeds. You will see their children (particularly the farmer or fisherman) child come first, and the first-ten position in the classroom and national examination.

So, the issue of poverty on the mind does not work out the same way. It is true that it negatively affect some individuals. Before I work my way into the middle class, all my wards are fine with their class works. What is the secret? Lack of money? No, but I manage the little I had wisely. Bright brain? No. Ability to learn? Yes. I can say this ability to learn and improve is my yard-stick in going forward up to university level.

Here now is the main secret. Poor peoples must learn to improve their lifestyles, especially the mind. Many cheap books are available in the market. I bought some by American and English authors. This article needs a wider circulation. I am sharing it on facebook. Thank you.