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FAQ & Terms

A Recipe for Health Equity in the 21st Century: Renaisa Anthony

Health equity is the state in which everyone has a fair and just opportunity to attain their highest level of health. It touches every community, together we heal our communities by taking control of our health!

What is Health Equity?

Health equity is the state in which everyone has a fair and just opportunity to attain their highest level of health. Achieving this requires ongoing societal efforts to: Address historical and contemporary injustices; Overcome economic, social, and other obstacles to health and health care; and Eliminate preventable health disparities. [1,2] To achieve health equity, we must change the systems and policies that have resulted in the generational injustices that give rise to racial and ethnic health disparities.

What are Health Disparities

Health disparities are preventable differences in the burden of disease, injury, violence, or opportunities to achieve optimal health that are experienced by populations that have been disadvantaged by their social or economic status, geographic location, and environment.[1] Many populations experience health disparities, including people from some racial and ethnic minority groups, people with disabilities, women, people who are LGBTQI+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, or other), people with limited English proficiency, and other groups. Across the country, people in some racial and ethnic minority groups experience higher rates of poor health and disease for a range of health conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, obesity, asthma, heart disease, cancer, and preterm birth, when compared to their White counterparts. For example, the average life expectancy among Black or African American people in the United States is four years lower than that of White people.[3] These disparities sometimes persist even when accounting for other demographic and socioeconomic factors, such as age or income. Communities can prevent health disparities when community- and faith-based organizations, employers, healthcare systems and providers, public health agencies, and policymakers work together to develop policies, programs, and systems based on a health equity framework and community needs.

are the conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, play, and worship that affect a wide range of health risks and outcomes. Long-standing inequities in six key areas of social determinants of health are interrelated and influence a wide range of health and quality-of-life risks and outcomes. Examining these layered health and social inequities can help us better understand how to promote health equity and improve health outcomes.

People with disabilities and people from some racial and ethnic minority groups, rural areas, and White populations with lower incomes are more likely to face multiple barriers to accessing health care.[13][14] For example, structural barriers related to socioeconomic status, such as lack of insurance,[15] transportation, childcare, or ability to take time off work, can make it hard to go to the doctor. Cultural differences between patients and providers as well as language barriers affect patient-provider interactions and health care quality.[16] Inequities in treatment[17] and historical events, like the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the African American Male and sterilization of American Indian women without their permission, might also explain why some people from racial and ethnic minority groups do not trust health care systems and the government’s health-related guidance.[18],[19],[20],[21]

Not all workers have the same risk of experiencing a work-related health problem, even when they have the same job. Occupational health inequities are avoidable differences in work-related disease incidence, mental illness, or morbidity and mortality that are closely linked with social, economic, and/or environmental disadvantage, such as temporary work arrangements, socio-demographic characteristics (e.g., age, sex, gender identity, race, or class), and organizational factors (e.g., lack of worker safety measures, limited or no health insurance benefits).

People who have been historically marginalized, such as people from racial and ethnic minority groups, people with disabilities, and people with lower incomes, are disproportionately affected by inequities in access to high-quality education. [13][14] Policies that link public school funding to the tax base of a neighborhood limit the resources available in schools of lower income neighborhoods. This results in lower-quality education for residents of lower income neighborhoods, which can lead to lower literacy and numeracy levels, lower high school completion rates, and barriers to college entrance. In addition to educational barriers, limited access to quality job training or programs tailored to the language needs of some racial and ethnic minority groups may limit future job options and lead to lower paying or less stable jobs.

People from some racial and ethnic minority groups and other historically marginalized groups also face greater challenges in getting higher paying jobs with good benefits due to less access to high-quality education,[25] geographic location, language differences, discrimination, and transportation barriers. People with limited job options often have lower incomes, experience barriers to wealth accumulation, and carry greater debt. The historical practice of redlining and denying mortgages to people of color has also created a lack of opportunity for home ownership, and thus wealth accumulation, due to the inability to pass down property and build wealth. Such financial challenges may make it difficult to manage expenses, pay medical bills, and access affordable quality housing, education, nutritious food, and reliable childcare.

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Last Reviewed: July 1, 2022

Source: Office of Health Equity

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