What is Health Equity?

Health equity is a key concept in addressing social determinants of health. Health equity, in this context, is the absence of significant differences in health outcomes between groups of people who are socially advantaged and those who are socially disadvantaged.

Definition of Health Equity

Health equity, as defined by the World Health Organization, is the absence of systematic and intentional inequities in a social or health-related context. In other words, the absence of health disparities across various social and health indicators. International policy guidelines on the definition of health equity state that health equity is about reducing, eliminating, or preventing existing and preventable health inequities. As a result, social and health inequities are considered a violation of the right to health, human rights, and the rule of law. In layman’s terms, health equity is about making sure that everyone has the same access to the basic health care that they need and want to receive.

Health Equity vs. Health Inequality

Health equity sounds a lot like health equality, but the two terms are not always synonymous. Health equity is a broader term that refers to removing barriers and providing additional assistance for those who need it, while health equality refers to everyone getting the same exact treatment regardless of circumstances. The classic example given to demonstrate this difference is the metaphor of picking apples. In this metaphor, two people are picking apples from an apple tree. They both have the same height of ladders to reach the apples but one person is taller than the other. This is health equality; even though the shorter person needs more help than the taller person, they both get the same exact treatment. In contrast, health equity would be giving the shorter person a taller ladder to reach the apples, making both people the same height. In this scenario, the shorter person has more help than the taller person, but they both have the same access to the apples.

Health Disparities

Health disparities are the differences in health outcomes and experiences that exist among people with different social identities (e.g., racial/ethnic identity, socioeconomic status, and gender). Health disparities are the gold standard for measuring health inequities, and the scientific community has worked to develop a more comprehensive and inclusive definition of health equity. Examples of health disparities can include:

African American baby boomers: The “Baby Boom” generation is disproportionately affected by obesity and chronic health conditions. Most importantly, health inequities are associated with increased mortality in the African American population, which disproportionately represents the Baby Boom generation.

The Black community: The Black community is disproportionately affected by health inequities, including high rates of obesity, diabetes and other chronic health conditions.

Latino community: The Latino community is disproportionately affected by chronic health conditions, including diabetes and other metabolic diseases, and frequent cancer diagnoses.

Women: Women are less likely to be taken seriously by their health care providers when they have health complaints, which leads to poorer health outcomes. These health inequities are especially prevalent among women of color.

Addressing Health Disparities

Health equity is an important and complex topic that touches on many areas of public health, including health care delivery, health policy, and social determinants of health. Health equity is also a multifaceted topic, which means that there are many ways to help achieve it. Health equity is a human rights issue, a social justice issue, and a public health issue. It is a complex and multifaceted issue that requires a holistic and collaborative approach to solve. Not only do we need to address the health inequities that exist in our society, but we also need to address the social determinants that perpetuate these inequities. For example, you can work to reduce health disparities in your community, by helping people get access to health care and healthy food. You can also advocate for policies that help those who need it most, such as health insurance for all, regardless of income or status.

Wrap Up

Health inequities, or health disparities, are the differences in health outcomes, experiences, and access to health care that exist among people with different social identities. Health inequities are a violation of human rights, which means that everyone has a right to health and a right to be free from health inequities. Health equity is about reducing, preventing, and eliminating health inequities for the best health outcomes for everyone. The goal of health equity is to achieve the best health outcomes for all people, regardless of their social identities.

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