The U.S. now has the highest infant mortality and lowest life expectancy of any comparably wealthy country.
Internally, these and other health measures vary significantly, to the extent that your zip code might more accurately predict your state of health than your behaviors or personal characteristics, says a health equity report commissioned by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).
When it comes to breast cancer, despite similar incidence rates, African American women are 42 percent more likely to die from the disease than white women. They are also more likely to be diagnosed later and experience delays in treatment. Read on to learn more about health equity.
What Is Health Equity?
Health equity is the pursuit of the highest levels of health and health care for all people regardless of race, age, gender, sexual orientation, social status, or any other factors.
It addresses the systemic differences that groups face in opportunities to achieve optimal health, such as education, access to services, and inadequate housing.
Why Is Health Equity Important?
Health disparities undermine our nation’s commitment to justice and fairness of opportunity. Inequitable health opportunities mean children fail to perform at school. Without a fair chance to reach their potential, their ability to become contributing members of society is diminished.
Businesses experience reduced productivity from health deprived employees and soaring healthcare costs. Eventually, this weakened efficiency impacts on national competitiveness and our overall economic strength.
Research also shows that having one of the largest income-based health disparities in the world negatively impacts the health of the affluent. The contention being that income inequality impedes social cohesion, reducing security, and increasing fear and stress.
Other Information About Health Equity
Statistics maintained by the Office of Minority Health (OMH) show that African Americans have more than double the infant mortality rate of their white counterparts.
Infants are almost four times as likely to die from complications related to low birth weight and mothers twice as likely to have delayed or no prenatal care. Additionally, taxpayers pay a high cost for health disparity.
That’s according to a Commonwealth Fund report, which found that the U.S. spends, on average, 50 percent more per capita on health care than the comparative countries studied—despite us being the only country without a public health system and only covering 34 percent of our population.
What Can Be Done to Improve Health Equity?
The same Commonwealth Fund report found the U.S. spends relatively less on social services than other countries and is alone in spending more on health care services than social services as a percentage of GDP.
Directing funds towards social services that address the root cause of health disparities could well be the first step to achieving Health Equity. But money alone isn’t enough.
Contributors to the RWJF Health Equity report and other studies stress the need for Health Equity to be adopted as a shared vision and value, and to become a leadership-driven priority.
Actions require multisector or “industry-wide” collaboration and community participation. They must specifically address the drivers of health inequity and confront institutional racism.
The Bottom Line
Health disparities have long been a topic of discussion and research amongst academics and policymakers. But at the bottom level, awareness of the consequences of health inequity, even with those most adversely affected, has lagged.
Until 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic spotlit the stark contrasts in minority lifestyles and access to opportunities. Never before has it been as clearly evident that racism is a rampant and pervasive bias affecting health equity in the United States of America today.