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Why the General Public Needs to Talk About Health Equity

At the core of the Healthy People 2030 goals, lies the goal of achieving health equity. The term “health equity” is often used interchangeably with the term “health disparities”, but they are not the same. In addition we often think about "health outcomes" as the province of "healthcare and medicine" yet almost 80% of what impacts health outcomes comes from socio-economic factors.

In order to move towards a society focused on health equity, elimination of disparities, and improved health outcomes, the general public will need to be familiar with the topic. This can only be done by raising awareness and inviting them to the discussion table.

Health Equity

When we discuss diversity, equity and inclusion topics a key starting point should be the language we are using and whether we are all using the same definitions.Health equity implies that everyone has an equal opportunity to achieve optimal health and live a life of well-being, but let's dive deeper.

According to the CDC - Health equity is the state in which everyone has a fair and just opportunity to attain their highest level of health. I also like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s definition, which includes that health equity requires removing obstacles to health such as poverty, discrimination, and their consequences, including powerlessness and lack of access to good jobs with fair pay, quality education and housing, safe environments, and health care.

Ideally the goal of health equity would be achieving health outcomes that are not closely linked to an individual’s social or economic status. Meaning that everyone should have the same opportunity to live a life of well-being, regardless of social or economic factors like race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, to name a few.

Which means that for achieving the Healthy People 2030 goal of health equity we would need to ensure that everyone has access to the resources and services they need to achieve optimal health. This includes access to quality and affordable health care, education, employment opportunities, and a healthy environment. It also involves addressing disparities in health outcomes that are caused by social and economic inequities.

Health Disparities Health disparities are differences in health outcomes associated with social or economic inequity. They impact outcomes like access to quality healthcare, mortality rates and disease prevention rates along with education, employment, and housing. Health disparities are a significant barrier to achieving health equity and they can have a impact on an individual’s health, along with that of the communities they reside in.

For example, people of color are more likely to live in areas with higher levels of air pollution, like cities, than white people. This can then lead to higher rates of asthma and other respiratory illnesses among people of color, making the issue more about the environment you live in then racial background. The Health Equity Challenge

Many health disparities in the US can be traced back to social and economic inequities, which are often linked to structural factors, such as poverty, racism, and other forms of discrimination. To address these inequities, it becomes important to focus on eliminating policies and programs that are discriminatory and promoting those that focus on health equity. This would include access to quality and affordable health care, education, employment opportunities, and a healthy environment while creating programs aimed at eliminating poverty and racism. However, this cannot be done without the involvement of and input of the communities these policies and programs are meant to assist. Often well-intentioned projects are created without the representation of those who will utilize them. The best way to create sustainable programs and a culture of health is by increasing community engagement and education. If the general population does not understand the importance of health equity and how to achieve it or engage in conversations about health equity, and advocates for it, we will continue to struggle to create meaningful progress toward health equity.

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