The Effect Income-Related Policies Have on Population Health

Studies have shown that income is tied to most matters of health, including life expectancy, prevalence of diseases, and health behaviors. The Urban Institute and the Center on Society and Health have analyzed emerging evidence and prospects of income-related policies that work to improve population health.

Studies have shown that income is tied to most matters of health, including life expectancy, prevalence of diseases, and health behaviors. The Urban Institute and the Center on Society and Health have analyzed emerging evidence and prospects of income-related policies that work to improve population health.

While the impact of income on health is true across the globe, in the United States, public and private policies play a major role in shaping the so-called income-health gradient, according to the researchers.

“Our society’s debates and decisions about the best way to grow the economy, reduce unemployment, and promote high-quality jobs also have direct implications for health,” the authors wrote.

Poor health is not just costly to individuals and families, but to the nation as a whole. As a result, any financial savings associated with population health improvements could be substantial, according to the report.

Overall there are 3 broad policies that impact population health: investments in early childhood, income support or in-kind benefits, and improvements to living conditions of entire neighborhoods or communities.

Early childhood education, typically targeted at low-income children, seem to be the most promising. Research into the Head Start program has shown that children who participate in this program grow up to be more likely to finish high school and enroll in college compared with their siblings who did not participate.

The researchers also analyzed evidence from the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and Supplemental Security Income, which all provide financial assistance to low-income families, and found health benefits for infants and children, and lower disability rates for adults.

“Given the political controversies surrounding many government-financed income support programs, especially in an era of tight fiscal restraints created by debt and deficit concerns, it is useful to consider the evidence about the health effects of income support policies and programs, as well as programs that provide in-kind benefits that free up income within family budgets,” the authors wrote.

Finally, community and economic development policies provide community investments that not only lead to economic revitalization and the creation of jobs, but also promote better health through safe parks and playgrounds, groceries and farmers markets that sell fresh and healthy foods, and high-quality programs for children and youth.

“Programs and policies that improve the income and the income-generating potential of individuals, families, and entire communities are powerful tools for improving health, narrowing health inequalities, and containing spiraling health care costs,” the authors concluded.