Health Equity: A Definition
Health, as defined by the World Health Organization, is an “orderly process characterized by an ability to heal, prevent or control disease.” Different definitions have been applied to health over the years. The dictionary definition of health is “a condition of the body in its normal function that may be impaired for a prolonged period due to environmental factors such as stress, infection, malnutrition, or sedentary lifestyle; or caused by genetic or metabolic abnormalities.” In addition, health can also be affected by the quality of life (quality of life) a person experiences.
The goal of medicine is to treat diseases, injuries, and other problems so that people can lead healthy lives. The word “disease” has different meanings depending on the country, culture, and view of life that the word is used in. For example, in the United States, the word disease is used to refer to an array of illnesses and physical conditions, while in other countries, it denotes physical and mental aspects of the body.
One way to improve health and physical well being is through physical activities such as exercise, eating right, and weight management. In addition, people need mental health care to cope with problems such as depression and stress. Many people do not get enough sleep or eat a balanced diet, which leads to obesity. Obesity leads to a host of other medical problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, and various kinds of cancer. Mental health care is essential to promoting good health and preventing illness and disease. By helping to identify potential health risks and the basis for the prevention of these risks, mental health care professionals can work with individuals, families, schools, communities, and public agencies to address the many health disparities affecting the lives of millions of people of color and other underserved groups.
The disproportionate effect of racism and sexism in our society has made it important for us to pay more attention to promoting equity in health care. Equity in health depends upon three elements: general health, disability, and equity of opportunity. Health and disability are both connected to equity. People of color face greater health and disability disparities than people of similar income and race, which can translate into higher rates of illness and injury and worse health and disability outcomes than people of color who live at or near the same income level.
Because of these three factors, people of color and other disadvantaged groups experience higher rates of health problems and worse health outcomes. Poor health behaviors, such as lack of exercise, poor diets, high stress levels, and high poverty rates contribute to health disparities. Poor health care system results, such as preventable hospitalization and mortality, can also be exacerbated by these health behaviors and other factors. Unwanted, avoidable health conditions such as diabetes, asthma, and heart disease, can also exacerbate health disparities. Equity in health means that health care is provided for everyone in need. It also means that people of color, who may experience higher health disparities than non-minority people, receive quality health care and other services that they deserve.
Federal actions taken in recent years to address health equity have had varying degrees of success. Some federal programs have had great success, improving access to health services for people of color. Other federal initiatives, such as the Medicaid program, have had less success. Health and disability providers, along with public agencies like Medicare and the Department of Health and Human Services, need to work more closely with each other and with the government to address health disparities and improve the overall health of people of color. Health Equity and Health Care Interaction, published by the Kaiser Commission on Health and Development, is a useful source for finding information and providing information and analysis on health equity. Other sources of information and analysis on health equity include: The National Institute of Mental Health, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Education Program, the Office of the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Social Security Act, and the Medicare Shared Savings Program.