In 2010, the U.S. government described health equity as “the achievement of the highest standard of health for all people.” That ensures that everyone, regardless of ethnicity, socio-economic status, geography, or circumstance, has the same chance of living a healthier life. It’s a lofty goal. So, it’s going to take some pretty big improvements at all levels—from people to society as a whole.
What is Health Equity?
The term “health equity” refers to ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to live their healthiest lives.
Unfortunately, many social factors can limit people’s access to health care. There are inequities in health.
Examples of these obstacles include:
- Racial and ethnic discrimination
- Lack of access to higher education
- Income and capital difference
- Inadequate housing or lack of housing
- Unsafe environments
By reducing, challenging, or solving these obstacles, individuals will achieve health equity. However, this is rarely something a person can do for himself or herself. Instead, it asks for adaptive changes from society and healthcare organizations and governments.
Why health equity Matters?
Being healthy depends largely on a variety of specific activities. These include your diet and workout routines, whether you smoke or use drugs, etc. Taking personal responsibility for maintaining and improving your health is vital. But what we want to do for our health depends on our options.
Do you live in a neighborhood with broken sidewalks, no parks, and heavy traffic? Then going out to workout might not be a viable option. Likewise, suppose the only places to buy food in your region offer low-quality, processed food and expensive but limited fresh produce options. Then, it’s going to be difficult to eat a healthy diet.
If you want people to make good choices, you have to “make the right choice easy.” But for certain communities in the U.S., the right choice is not even available, let alone easy. Health equity means removing that intense—but avoidable and unnecessary—barriers. These barriers keep people apart from opportunities to better their health.
This isn’t just a question of social welfare. Health and healthcare inequalities are costly. According to one study, about a third of the direct medical costs of Blacks, Hispanics, and Asian-Americans are due to health inequalities. The combined cost of these disparities was $1.24 trillion between 2003 and 2006. Uninsured African Americans were faster to gain insurance than non-Hispanic whites. But their high rates of insurance loss more than negated this advantage.
This is especially important when it comes to children’s health gaps. If all kids were as likely to have the same health benefits as wealthy kids, the incidence of such diseases, such as low birth weight or unintentional injuries, will fall by an estimated 60 to 70%. Unhealthy children often grow up to be unhealthful adults. This results in a vicious circle that is intertwined with families’ physical, emotional and financial health.
In particular, achieving health equality in early childhood will have significant effects across society. It can reduce the amount spent on medical services in the U.S. and improve the economy.
How to Achieve Health Equity?
First, to achieve equity in health, the U.S. must value everyone’s physical well-being equally. This will require a focused, ongoing, and continuing effort to:
- Stop avoidable inequalities in health conditions
- Ensure access to health care
- Correct injustices
- Close health inequalities gaps
It is a monumental task that demands efforts at the citizen, community, and national levels.
Many organizations, educational groups, and individuals have set out plans to get there. Healthy People 2020, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Public Health Association are some of them. These proposals differ slightly in terms of what needs to be done and by whom. But, there are several common themes around the panel.
Who doesn’t have health equity, and how can they achieve it?
Groups that do not have health equity are groups that are traditionally disenfranchised and discriminated against for no reason of their own. Examples are:
- Racial and religious minorities
- Families living in low-income households
- Members of the LGBTQ+ community members
Members of these communities are more likely to face obstacles to care and health. These include violence, low incomes, and poor housing conditions.
Gaining health equity involves a combination of political, community, and personal activities. In general, a person cannot correct all factors that affect their health equity. They can benefit from services and professionals to support them.
Identify key health disparities and their root causes
For solving the problem, the first step is to find out what is going on and why.
A common strategy is to ask the “Why” question five times.
Say, for example, that you have skinned your knee.
- Why is that? That’s because you tripped on the sidewalk.
- Why is that? Because you were caught on an uneven surface.
- Why is that? That the sidewalk needs to be repaired.
- Why is that? Because the local government hasn’t maintained the sidewalk in the area for a long time.
- Why is that? Because there is a lack of sufficient funds to repair damaged walkways in all areas where it is needed.
You could just put a bandage on your knee and get on with your life. But that won’t stop others from skinning their knees. A more permanent and comprehensive solution will encourage local authorities to raise or request more sustained funds to cover the infrastructure improvement projects needed.
This is, of course, a gross oversimplification. But it highlights the need to dig deep enough just to sort out not only the challenge but the long-term solutions to it. Community health problems appear to have complex causes.
How to promote health equity?
Individuals and organizations can take action to help individuals achieve health equity.
The following are some steps that people need to take:
- Identify how health inequalities in the community impact specific groups.
- Understand that each individual has their own racial and ethnic biases. Also, learn how to recognize when a policy or situation can exclude a person or a community.
- Show respect to persons of all groups and involve all communities in effecting change. This means that suppose someone starts a policy or program that solves health inequalities. Then, they should ask the individuals they are trying to reach whether the specific program will help them.
- Frequently evaluate how well health equity programs work. Make changes when appropriate to ensure that these measures are more successful.
- Encourage individuals to participate by using their skills, time, and gifts. An example may involve teaching students to help them receive their high school diploma or a health provider volunteering their time at a clinic.
- To promote health equity, an individual must work with others to remove health care obstacles.
The Bottom Line
Health equity is something that takes time and effort to tackle. But it is the efforts of people seeking to help others with access to healthy and non-judgmental health services that can make a difference.
We have to model and promote health equity. Then, people and organizations can improve health services for those struggling with health inequalities.