The perception of stress and its impact on health in poor communities

Sue A. Kaplan, Vivienne Patricia Madden, Todor Mijanovich, Ellenrita Purcaro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

With the increased understanding of the relationship between stress and disease, the role of stress in explaining persistent disparities in health outcomes has received growing attention. One body of research has focused on allostatic load - the "wear and tear" that results from chronic or excessive activation of the stress response. Other research has looked at the link between stress and health behaviors. In this study, we conducted 7 focus groups with a total of 56 people to understand how people living in Highbridge, South Bronx, New York, a low income community with poor health outcomes, perceive stress and its relationship to health. Focus group participants described a direct causal pathway between stress and poor health as well as an indirect pathway through health behaviors, including uncontrolled eating, sleep deprivation, substance abuse, smoking, violence and aggression, and withdrawal and inactivity. Participants articulated a number of theories about why stress leads to these unhealthy behaviors, including self-medication, adaptive behavior, discounting the future, depletion of willpower, and competing priorities. Their nuanced understanding of the link between stress and health elucidates the mechanisms and pathways by which stress may result in disparities in health outcomes and create challenges in changing health behaviors in poor communities like the South Bronx.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)142-149
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Community Health
Volume38
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2013

Keywords

  • Chronic stress
  • Community based participatory research
  • Health behaviors
  • Health disparities

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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