Chapter 18: Health and Medicine

Social Issues in the News

“Children’s Quality of Life Declining,” the headline said. A study from the Foundation for Child Development noted that more than 21% of American children were living in poverty in 2010, up 5% from 2006 and the highest rate in two decades. Child experts warned that the increasing poverty could impair children’s health. The sociologist who led the study worried that child obesity could increase as families were forced to move away from more expensive health food to processed and fast food. A child psychology professor said that people who grow up in poverty have higher rates of cancer, liver and respiratory disease, and other conditions. The president of the American Academy of Pediatrics agreed that family poverty is a health risk for children, who are more likely to be born prematurely and/or with low birth weight and to develop asthma and other health problems as they grow. She added that all these problems can have lifelong effects: “The consequences of poverty build on themselves, so that the outcomes can be felt for years to come.” (Landau, 2010; Szabo, 2010)

This news story reminds us that social class is linked to health and illness, and it illustrates just one of the many ways in which health and medicine are an important part of the social fabric. Accordingly, this chapter examines the social aspects of health and medicine. It does not discuss the medical causes of various diseases and illnesses, and neither does it tell you how to become and stay healthy, as these are not, strictly speaking, sociological topics. But it will discuss the social bases for health and illnesses and some of today’s most important issues and problems in health care.


Landau, E. (2010, June 8). Children’s quality of life declining, says report. CNN. Retrieved from

Szabo, L. (2010, June 8). More than 1 in 5 kids live in poverty. USA Today. Retrieved from


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