This essay will critically examine the cultural and behavioural explanations of class differences in relationship to heath issues. The report would explore how culture influences people to make decision that could affect their health as well as how behaviour of various social classes could influence poor health and life expectancy. The report will also look at issues of poverty or class in relationship to life expectancy as and finally explore the government’s initiatives to address health inequalities in relationship to social class.
Social class is an informal ranking of people in a culture based on their income, occupation, education, dwelling, and other factors (Cockerham: 2007, Prentice Hall: n. d. ) However, in the UK, social class is measured using the Registrar-General’s Occupation-based Classification System, the system classifies people in groups ranging from Classes I to V (1 – 5) according to their occupation, e. g. lawyers and doctors are in Class I, and unskilled manual workers and labourers in Class V (Cardiff Metropolitan University). As sited by Nettleton, S.
, theorists and social scientists have proved that poor health is related to social class and obviously, health inequalities are found between different classes, with the poor suffering most. Behavioural/cultural explanations tend to blame ill health on the sufferers because they do not follow a healthy lifestyle. As cited by Tan and Goh (1999), culture is defined as the shared and learned way of life of a group of people. Cultural explanation suggests that different social classes behave in different distinct ways; the poorer health of the lower social classes, is caused by their behaving in ways that are detrimental to health.
Poverty is having more bad things in life and “less of the goods things including health” (Cockerham: 2007 p79) Poverty and health are definitely linked and not only are the ‘poor more likely to suffer from ill health and premature death, but poor health and disability are themselves recognised as causes of poverty’ (Blackburn 1991, p7). Similar sentiments are reported in the Department of Health report 2002a and cited by Nettleton (2006). Nettleton states that, residents from deprived areas in England are more likely to have a disability in comparison to residents from more affluent areas.
Naturally, the wealthier a group of people the healthier that group becomes. In the United Kingdom, there is universal health care as part of social policy. However, poorer members of society are usually only restricted to social health care compared to wealthier members of society who can directly solicit specialist treatment therefore avoiding the NHS waiting list as well as acquiring treatment earlier, hence living a healthier lifestyle in comparison to the economically deprived who have to wait for their turn on the NHS waiting list.
In this respect economic wealth rather than behaviour or culture is the determinant to a healthier lifestyle. It is imperative to note that people in much more affluent social positions can have similar behaviour to people in lower social classes therefore aligning behaviour and culture to poor health may not be correct. “Obesity is linked to social class, being more common among those in the routine or semi-routine occupational groups than the managerial and professional groups” (National Statistics office: 2001).
It is evident that the lower the social class a person is associated with the more the chances that person would be obese. Obesity has been linked to heart diseases as well as premature death (British Heart Foundation p5); therefore in this respect we could agree with the fact that, because of high concentration levels of obese people in lower socio economic groups (Social Issues Research Centre), social class level is closely related to the well being of the population in terms of health hence life expectancy is drastically influenced by class level Giddens (2006).
Nettleton (2006) states that lifestyles differ at different levels of social classes hence people in lower socio-economic groups eat fatty foods and do not exercise leading to an unhealthy and inevitably obese lifestyle.