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How Food, Climate, and Housing Affect Health Equity

Dr. Creshelle Nash

Where we live, work and play impact our ability to be healthy. In fact, we can estimate that up to 80% of our healthcare happens outside the walls of the doctor’s office. Things like access to healthy food, our proximity to pollution, and the safety of our homes can affect our health. “Social determinants of health” are non-medical factors that heavily affect people’s health. These social determinants affect health equity, too. Some people are positively affected by these factors. Examples of positive factors would be living near a grocery store with fresh food or having internet access. Other people face barriers to good health such as lack of transportation, poor housing infrastructure, or limited internet access. It’s these barriers, which often affect communities of color, that contribute to our ability to achieve health equity.

It’s important we recognize the influence of these factors and work to address them. Let’s explore a few examples of how these factors impact our ability to be healthy.

Access to nutritious food

According to the Arkansas Governor’s Food Desert Working Group, 82% of Arkansas counties have one or more communities that need improved food access. This means residents must travel more than one mile in an urban setting or more than 10 miles in a rural setting to access fresh, healthy food. Without access to healthy foods, people are at a higher risk for obesity and diabetes.

Safe and affordable housing 

According to the Arkansas Department of Transportation 2021 Rural Profile, towns in the Delta are seeing people move away in favor of larger cities. A Blytheville resident shared that “Houses get older, people move out and nobody replaces them.” Residents of lower-quality housing may face health hazards such as toxic lead paint or mold, and the struggle to cover housing expenses. This may contribute to chronic stress and make it harder to seek care for other needs.

These examples and more show the power of social conditions have on our ability to take good care of ourselves and our loved ones. At Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, understanding how these forces are connected allows us to better address the root causes of physical and behavioral health. We continue to develop programs to improve whole-person health for Arkansans. If we recognize and address the root cause of these factors, we can help create healthier communities and healthier people.

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