What Is Health Equity?
Health, as defined by the World Health Organization, is an “uneven condition of the physical, emotional and social well being of individuals and families” and “not the absence of sickness and infirmity”. A number of definitions have also been used over the years for different purposes. For instance, the Universal Health Care Dictionary defines health as “the total positive effect of well-being on the whole of an individual’s life and to his or her physical, emotional, mental, social, spiritual, and behavioral health.” The dictionary also indicates that the state of health can vary with age and is influenced by the quality of the care received and the availability of services. It also indicates that a person’s health can decline for various reasons and can be managed through a healthy lifestyle.
The term “mental health” describes conditions related to the ability to cope with daily activities, but it is usually implied when it refers to disorders affecting the ability to live a normal life. These can include common mental disorders such as anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia; as well as more severe ones such as schizophrenia, clinical depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and bipolar disorder. Some of these conditions are autoimmune disorders (such as Lupus, diabetes, and some others), and many others. Mental health has also been linked to healthy outcomes in the areas of self-care, diet, exercise, and drug use/misuse.
Health promotion is a branch of public health that seeks to promote healthy living, to reduce health-threatening conditions, and to improve the overall health and fitness of a population. In other words, health promotion is about planning for the prevention of diseases, disability, and death. It generally includes measures aimed at reducing morbidity, mortality, preventable deaths, and disability. It can also include measures aimed at increasing the population’s capability to participate in economic, social, cultural, and psychological wellbeing. Generally speaking, the ultimate goal of public health is to ensure healthy lives and healthy bodies for all.
One of the most significant areas of focus for health promotion is to address the adverse effects of behaviors and environments upon health. For example, some communities have high rates of premature death or disability; and others have high incidences of substance abuse and smoking. There are a number of factors responsible for these discrepancies, but one of the most glaring culprits is systematic biases and discrimination. These could include systematic barriers to access to health services, employment opportunities, educational opportunities, and legal protection.
Health promotion also involves redefining terms such as “obesity” to better align with more accurate clinical and epidemiological definitions. The next phase for health promotion is the development of public policies and institutions such as schools, communities, and families that promote healthy behaviors and discourage unhealthy ones. Public policies may include interventions to promote the reduction of sugar intake and increased fruit and vegetable consumption, promoting regular exercise and fitness and decreasing tobacco use. Community programs may involve educating older adults on the risks and benefits of maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle. Such programs may also involve training (or hiring) the workforce to promote healthy behaviors in the workplace.
While some health issues are naturally affected by structural factors, such as poverty and lack of social capital, other social determinants cannot be changed without creating systemic change in people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Thus, it is important for health promotion to incorporate a social dimension. Prevention and promotion of wellness can only be successful if public policies promote healthy choices among people at all levels of the population. Health equity is therefore a significant concept in public health planning.