I am FINALLY posting another piece in my social justice series. I love social justice posts, but they take longer to write than most of my posts. If you haven’t read Food Deserts and Swamps yet, read this one first. This post provides a broad overview of the relationship between social justice and health. It helps explain my perspective on health and well-being, and sets the stage for future social justice posts.
What is health equity?
Healthy People 2020 defines health equity as “attainment of the highest level of health for all people. Achieving health equity requires valuing everyone equally with focused and ongoing societal efforts to address avoidable inequalities, historical and contemporary injustices, and the elimination of health and health care disparities.”
What is the difference between health equity and equality?
Health equality focuses on fairness and involves equal distribution of health-related resources to all people regardless of pre-existing differences. Health equity focuses on people attaining the same optimal level of health, which often means that some people get more assistance or resources than others. Particular attention is paid to groups that have experienced major obstacles to health associated with being socially or economically disadvantaged. The image below is helpful for understanding the difference between the two.
Unlike health equality, a health equity approach acknowledges that some individuals have a better chance of attaining optimal health than others. Therefore, the goal of health equity is to level the playing field so that everyone has the same opportunity to be healthy. An essential component of leveling the playing field and ultimately eradicating health disparities is addressing social determinants of health.
What are social determinants of health?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), social determinants of health are “the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels.”
In simpler terms, social determinants of health include a person’s
- socioeconomic status,
- employment conditions,
- access to healthcare,
- sexual orientation,
- and personal behaviors.
The video below illustrates social determinants of health by using “Chad” and “Jeff” as examples.
For another example, as I pointed out in my last social justice post on food desserts and swamps, people who live in low income neighborhoods or communities are less likely to have access to affordable and nutritious food. And as we all know, a healthy diet is absolutely essential for overall health.
Why does health equity matter?
Health is a basic human right, and it affects every part of our lives. While some factors of health are beyond human influence, we have the power to address the social injustices that lead to health disparities. By building on individuals’ strengths and mitigating the effects of social and economic disadvantages, we can work towards equal opportunity for optimal health and well-being.
Resources and Additional Information
Healthy People 2020
WHO – Social Determinants of Health