Poverty kills more Americans than obesity, diabetes, and drug overdoses, study reveals

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Poverty kills more Americans than obesity, diabetes, and murders, making it the nation’s fourth leading cause of death, according to a new analysis. A researcher from the University of California-Riverside reports that the only things that kill more people are heart disease, cancer, and smoking.

According to the findings, not earning enough money to meet basic needs contributed to around 183,000 deaths in the United States in 2019 alone. An international team working on this project are now dubbing poverty the “silent killer.”

This is a conservative estimate, scientists note, since the data focused on those over 15 years of age and was collected just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic — which caused spikes in deaths as well as an economic upheaval worldwide.

The researchers defined poverty as earning less than 50 percent of the median U.S. income. Suicides, firearms, homicides, and obesity, diabetes, and drug overdoses, were all less lethal than poverty, according to the study. Impoverished people have roughly the same survival rate until they reach their 40s. After this, they die at significantly high rates than those with more adequate incomes and resources.

Homeless man holds sign asking for human kindness
(Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash)

Scientists believe their research has major policy implications and urge those in power to pay more attention to the issue. They add that beyond the emotional suffering of bereaved loved ones, death is expensive for a family, community, and government.

Poverty kills as much as dementia, accidents, stroke, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes,” says David Brady, the study’s lead author and a UCR professor of public policy, in a university release. “Poverty silently killed 10 times as many people as all the homicides in 2019. And yet, homicide firearms and suicide get vastly more attention.”

“If we had less poverty, there’d be a lot better health and well-being, people could work more, and they could be more productive,” Brady continues. “All of those are benefits of investing in people through social policies.”

The team compared income data with the National Death Index, which tracks deaths and their causes in the U.S.

“Because certain ethnic and racial minority groups are far more likely to be in poverty, our estimates can improve understanding of ethnic and racial inequalities in life expectancy,” the paper’s authors conclude.

The findings are published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

South West News Service writer Pol Allingham contributed to this report.

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