There are large, persistent, and growing health disparities across the country, many of which result from barriers erected at all levels of society. After all, it is difficult to be healthy if you do not have access to good jobs, schools, and safe, affordable housing. Health equity entails expanding opportunities for everyone to live as healthy a life as possible, regardless of who you are, where you live, or how much money you make. In other words, health equity focuses on reducing and eventually eliminating health disparities and the adverse effects that accompany them.
What Impacts Health Equity?
The conditions under which people are born, grow, live, work, and age go a long way to shape their health status. These conditions are called social determinants of health, and they directly impact health equity.
Social determinants of health include:
- Economic stability – Economic stability is interconnected with employment status and the ability to earn consistent long-term income. Its main factors include:
- Job opportunities and working conditions
- Food safety and accessibility
- Homes that are both safe and cost-effective
- Income level, as well as resources
- Food – Access to food, particularly nutritious food, is regarded as a major social determinant of health that directly impacts a person’s wellbeing. Individuals who cannot afford or obtain high-quality vitamin-rich foods are at risk of developing or aggravating chronic diseases.
- Neighborhood and physical environment – People’s health and wellbeing are greatly influenced by the neighborhoods in which they live. Many people live in neighborhoods with high levels of violence, unsafe air or water, and other health and safety risks. Racial/ethnic minorities and low-income people are more likely to live in areas with these risks.
Furthermore, some people are exposed to work-related hazards such as secondhand smoke or loud noises, which can harm their health. Intervention and policy changes at the local, state, and federal levels can help reduce and promote health and safety risks. It can, for example, increase safety while also improving health and quality of life if people have more opportunities to walk and ride in their communities on sidewalks and biking trams.
- Education – Individuals who have higher levels of education are more likely to be healthier than their counterparts with lower levels of education. Children from low-income families, or with disabilities, or who are regularly subjected to forms of social discrimination, such as bullying, are more likely to struggle with math and reading. They are also less likely to complete high school or attend college. This means they are less likely to obtain secure, well-paying jobs and are more likely to suffer from health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, and depression.
Some children live in areas with poor school performance, and many families cannot afford to send their children to college. Poverty-related stress can also impact children’s brain development, making it more difficult for them to succeed in school.
- Healthcare access – Statistics show that 12 percent of Americans do not have health insurance. People who do not have health insurance are less likely to have a primary care provider and not afford medications and health services. Strategies to increase insurance coverage are critical to ensuring that more people have access to critical health services such as preventive care and chronic disease treatment.
People who do not have a primary care provider may miss out on recommended healthcare services such as cancer screenings. Other times, this is due to the fact that the healthcare providers who provide them are too far away.
- Community and social context – Relationships and interactions with family, friends, coworkers, and community members can significantly impact a person’s health and wellbeing. Many people face challenges and risks over which they have no control, such as unsafe areas, discrimination, or difficulty obtaining what they require. This can have a long-term negative impact on one’s health and safety.
Positive relationships at home, work, and in the community help mitigate these negative effects. However, some people, such as children in prison and young people who are bullied, frequently lack support from loved ones or others. Some people do not receive assistance to obtain the social support they require to improve their health and wellbeing.
Why is It Important?
Health is a fundamental right of all people, regardless of race, gender, or socioeconomic status. We can all work together to close the access gap to healthcare by raising awareness and educating people about health inequities. Decreasing health inequalities helps improve community health because many health concerns differ. For example, the black community makes up only about 20 percent of the U.S. population but accounted for 52 percent of COVID-19 diagnoses with a 58 percent COVID-19 death rate.
African American, Latino, and Native American communities have higher diabetes death rates than whites and are disproportionately affected by complications like kidney damage and more severe amputations. They are more than twice as likely as whites to develop diabetes.
However, you must keep in mind that this is a complex problem that extends beyond solving one problem at a time. This calls for systemic changes, such as legislation or policies, that assist in empowering groups confronted with health disparities and providing resources.
How Do You Achieve It?
In the race to achieve health equity, you must take several steps. These include:
- Take care of the needs of marginalized communities that face ongoing health challenges, such as those who live in remote areas or lack easy access to medical facilities.
- Attempt to change the policy. Health reform legislation (for example, the Accessible Care Act of 2010) is critical in creating communities that allow people from diverse backgrounds to thrive. Contact government members and encourage them to vote, sign petitions, and raise public awareness.
- Create and maintain genuine relationships with community members who face persistent health barriers, and collaborate with them. They must have a seat at the table, and you can assist in amplifying their voices.
- Race is not the only factor influencing health equity. Recognize the overlap of issues that contribute to social inequities, such as economic security and housing.
- Value all human life by emphasizing diversity and inclusion and seek solutions to sexism, classism, and racism.
Equality in Health
Never before has the significance of developing and implementing solutions to address health equity been more emphasized in modern history. Many significant efforts are being made to achieve health equity. However, it takes work to promote fairer outcomes to create a fairer healthcare system that benefits everyone.