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Forum Explores How Society and Health are Interwoven

Factors such as access to healthy foods play a critical role in our health. (Wendell/Flickr)
Factors such as access to healthy foods play a critical role in our health. (Wendell/Flickr)
April 26, 2018

PORTLAND, Ore. — How do the structures and conditions of our society affect our health? That's a question panelists will be exploring at an event on Friday hosted by the Oregon Health Forum.

Rebecca Ramsay, a panelist and executive director of CareOregon, said structural factors, such as income, education level and race determine health outcomes. Then there are factors with closer ties to health, such as stable housing, access to nutritional foods, and stress.

Ramsay offered an example of how a child's lack of access to care affects their lifelong health. She said cavities are the single biggest factor in determining if a child will attend kindergarten. Children who don't attend kindergarten are less likely to graduate from high school, and people who don't graduate from high school on average have shorter life expectancy.

"So you can see how all of these factors are interwoven and create a vicious cycle where, really, the experience of living in poverty becomes one of the single most critical social determinants of health factors,” Ramsay said.

The forum starts at 7 a.m. at the Multnomah Athletic Club in Portland. It will feature panelists from other medical establishments, such as Oregon Health and Science University and Northwest Permanente.

Ramsay said the more risk factors a person experiences - such as food insecurity, domestic violence or institutional racism - the more likely their health will be negatively affected. Many of these are outside of an individual's control. She said it's important for people to understand this, and also to understand that health care shouldn't be about blaming someone for their choices.

"Certainly health behaviors and choice play a part - an important part - in health outcomes,” she said. “But that choice becomes very different when you are dealing with having very little money to spend on, for instance, eating healthy."

Ramsay said stress plays a critical role in a person’s health. For that reason, CareOregon supports programs that help families with parenting support to prevent toxic stress in childhood. CareOregon also supports prenatal nutrition programs and family-planning programs to prevent teen pregnancies - a major factor in determining whether someone will graduate from high school.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR