What is Health Equity?

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When we talk about the health of a community, there are many terms that get thrown around. In order to fully grasp the complexities of health and the role of Public Health in your community, it is important to get familiar with these terms. While certain terminology changes and evolves over time, there are some key concepts that are at the very foundation of the work that Public Health and our community partners do. So, to help in defining some of these, our new Community Health Planner for Equity and Inclusion has put together this helpful guide. To begin…

Health equity means that everyone in our community has a fair and just opportunity for healthy living. This requires removing the obstacles to individual and community health that arise from poverty and discrimination (whether based on race, education, gender identity, sexual orientation, job status, housing status, or disability) that result in compromised health and powerlessness. 

Health disparities are the differences in health outcomes across population groups. When we look at the cause of health disparities, we know that our health behaviors are important, such as eating nutritious foods, exercising, staying tobacco free, etc. However, those are only part of the bigger picture. Our health is also influenced by the social and economic conditions we live in. 

Social determinants of health are defined by the CDC as “the conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, and play that affect a wide range of health risks and outcomes.” Social determinants of health show up in people’s lives through their access to quality healthcare and education, opportunities for economic stability, and neighborhood and community context they live in. For example, the amount of funding a local public school receives, access to safe sidewalks and parks to get outside, proximity to grocery stores that carry healthy food, and whether there is high amounts of crime where someone lives. 

So, how are these terms all connected? When targeting health equity issues in our community, we are often looking at the social determinants of health that are influencing health disparities. 

You may be asking yourself: “We have healthy food, doctors, and opportunities for exercise that everyone can equally access, so how come people don’t use those?” This is an important point to address. 

There is a difference between equality and equity. Equity involves trying to understand what is causing the health disparity and giving people what they need to enjoy a healthy quality of life. Equality, in contrast, aims to ensure that everyone gets the same things to enjoy a healthy quality of life. Like equity, equality aims to promote fairness and justness, but it can only work if everyone starts from the same place and needs the same things. The image below explains the differences in these concepts. We must remember that a “one size fits all” approach is not always the most effective way for everyone to get the same opportunities.    

At Skagit County Public Health, we are making efforts to achieve health equity in our community. For example, Community Health Workers and Promotores employed by Public Health are working hard to increase access to health and community resources for Spanish speaking and Indigenous communities, people with disabilities, and seniors. Public Health also facilitates the Population Health Trust, which is the community advisory board to the Board of Health. The Population Health Trust is comprised of a group of leaders in the community who develop health equity strategies for the entire county to improve health for all community members. 

To learn more about the Population Health Trust and the work they are doing, click here.