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Behavioral Interventions as Policy Instruments to Manage Household Water Use  

Leong Ching and Swee Kiat Tay

Water planners and policy analysts need to pay closer attention to the behavioral aspects of water use, including the use of nonprice measures such as norms, public communications, and intrinsic motivations. Empirical research has shown that people are motivated by normative as well as economic incentives when it comes to water. In fact, this research finds that after exposure to feedback about water use, adding an economic incentive (rebate) for reducing water use holds no additional power. In other cases, nonprice measures can be a way to increase the salience, and subsequently, effectiveness of any adopted pricing mechanisms. We review these empirical findings and locate them within more general literature on normative incentives for behavioral change. Given increasing water scarcity and decreasing water security in cities, policy planners need to make more room for normative incentives when designing rules for proenvironmental behavior.


Environmental Health in Latin American Countries  

Luiz Augusto Cassanha Galvao, Volney Câmara, and Daniel Buss

The relationship between environment and health is part of the history of medicine and has always been important to any study of human health and to public-health interventions. In Latin America many health improvements are related to environmental interventions, such as the provision of better water and sanitation services. Latin America’s development, industrialization, and sweeping urbanization have brought many improvements to the well-being of its populations; they have also inaugurated new societies, with new patterns of consumption. The region’s basic environmental-health interventions have needed to be updated and upgraded to include disciplines such as toxicology, environmental epidemiology, environmental engineering, and many others. Multidisciplinary and inter-sector approaches are paramount to understanding new profiles of health and well-being, and to promoting effective public-health interventions. The new social, economic, labor, and consumption aspects of modern Latin American society have become more and more relevant to understanding the complex interactions in the region’s social, biological, and physical environment, which are essential to explaining some of the emerging and re-emerging public-health problems. Environmental health, as concept and as intervention, is simple and easily understood, but no longer sufficient to achieve the levels of health and well-being expected and required by these new realities. Many global changes such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and mass migrations has been identified as main cause of ill health and are at the center of the sustainable development challenges in general, and many are critical and specific public health. To face this development, other frameworks have emerged, such as planetary health and environmental and social determinants of health. Public health remains central to some, such as the improved environmental-health agenda, while others assign public health a relative position in a variety of overarching frameworks.


Health Equity Metrics  

Juan Garay, David Chiriboga, Nefer Kelley, and Adam Garay

There is one common health objective among all nations, as stated in the constitution of the World Health Organization in 1947: progress towards the best feasible level of health for all people. This goal captures the concept of health equity: fair distribution of unequal health. However, 70 years later, this common global objective has never been measured. Most of the available literature focuses on measuring health inequalities, not inequities, and compare health indicators (mainly access to health services) among population subgroups. A method is hereby proposed to identify standards for the best feasible levels of health through criteria of healthy, replicable, and sustainable (HRS) models. Once the HRS model countries were identified, adjusted mortality rates were applied to age- and sex-specific populations from 1950 to 2015, by calculating the net difference between the observed and expected mortality, using the HRS countries as the standard. This difference in mortality represents the net burden of health inequity (NBHiE), measured in avoidable deaths. This burden is due to global health inequity, that is, unfair inequality, due to social injustice. We then calculated the relative burden of health inequity (RBHiE), which is the proportion of NBHiE compared with all deaths. The analysis identified some 17 million avoidable deaths annually, representing around one-third of all deaths during the 2010–2015 period. This avoidable death toll (NBHiE) and proportion (RBHiE) have not changed much since the 1970s. Younger age groups and women are affected the most. When data were analyzed using smaller sample units (such as provinces, states, counties, or municipalities) in some countries, the sensitivity was increased and could detect higher levels of burden of health inequity. Most of the burden of health inequity takes place in countries with levels of income per capita below the average of the HRS countries, which we call the “dignity threshold.” Based on this threshold, a distribution of the world’s resources compatible with the universal right to health—the “equity curve”—is estimated. The equity curve would hypothetically be between this dignity threshold and a symmetric upper threshold around the world’s average per capita GDP. Such excess income prevents equitable distribution is correlated with a carbon footprint leading to >1.5º global warming (thus undermining the health of coming generations), and does not translate to better health or well-being. This upper threshold is defined as the “excess accumulation threshold.” The international redistribution required to enable all nations to have at least an average per capita income above the dignity threshold would be around 8% of the global GDP, much higher than the present levels of international cooperation. At subnational levels, the burden of health inequity can be the most sensitive barometer of socioeconomic justice between territories and their populations, informing and directing fiscal and territorial equity schemes and enabling all people within and between nations to enjoy the universal right to health. HRS models can also inspire lifestyles, and political and economic frameworks of ethical well-being, without undermining the rights of others in present and future generations.


Health Policies and Systems in Latin America  

Asa Cristina Laurell and Ligia Giovanella

Since the early 1990s, health policy in Latin America has focused on reform in most countries with the explicit purpose to increase access, decrease inequity, and provide financial protection. Basically, two different and opposed models of reform have been implemented: the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) model and the Single Universal Health System model. The essential characteristics of Latin American UHC are that health care is commodified by the introduction of competition that depends, in turn, on the payer/provider split, free choice, and pre-priced health service plans. In this framework, insurance, be it public or private, is crucial to assuring market solvency, because health needs not backed by purchasing power do not constitute a market that is particularly important in the Latin American region, the most unequal in the world. The Single Universal Health System (in Spanish, Sistema Universal de Salud, SUS) model is a model inspired by the principles of social justice and egalitarian, universal social rights. Characteristically funded by tax revenues, it makes provision of health services to the whole population a responsibility of the State and a universal citizens’ entitlement, independent of individual ability to pay or prior contributions. It considers health to be a public good that, for reasons of efficiency and equity, the market cannot provide. Everyone is entitled, as a right, to free care financed by the State. Given that health system reform occurs in specific historical contexts, these models have had different results in each country. In order to highlight the concrete reform outcomes, the following issues need be addressed: the political scenario and the stakeholders involved; the previous health system and the relative strength of the public and private sectors; coverage achieved by public institutions or insurance, public or private; the different health packages existing within each country; the institutional (re)organization; and the relative importance of public health actions. An analysis is needed of the UHC reforms in Chile, Colombia, and Mexico, on the one hand; and the Single Universal Health System in Brazil, Venezuela, and Cuba on the other. The UHC model in practice tends to increase inequity in access, create new bureaucratic barriers to timely care, fail to provide financial protection, and leads to deteriorated public health measures. It has also created new powerful private sector stakeholders, particularly in Chile and Colombia, while in Mexico the predominance of a strong public sector has “crowed-out” the private one. The Single Universal Health System has significantly increased access for millions that before reform had almost no access and has also strengthened public health actions. However, the strong preexisting private sector providers have profited from the public-sector purchases of complex medical services. Private health insurance has also increased among the upper middle class and workers belonging to strong labor unions.


Intervention Approaches for Osteoarthritis  

Susan Hughes, Cheryl Der Ananian, and Andrew DeMott

Osteoarthritis (OA) currently affects 32.5 million people in the United States at a cost of $136.8 billion. The available literature on the epidemiology of OA shows that the number of people affected will increase exponentially by the year 2040, affecting 78.4 million people. There is an abundance of evidence that self-management and physical activity (PA) approaches improve multiple outcomes for individuals with arthritis. However, these programs are not widely accessible to the population that can benefit from them across the United States. Two national organizations—the arthritis program of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Administration on Community Living (ACL)—have established similar, but distinct, criteria for the review of evidence-based programs and seek to promote their dissemination. The CDC arthritis program has reviewed the evidence bases of arthritis-appropriate, evidence-based intervention programs and classified them as self-management or PA approaches. These “recognized” programs are recommended for national dissemination by the CDC. The ACL has also recognized several of the same programs by using its own criteria and classified them as Self-Management or Falls Prevention approaches. The different review criteria used by these two national public organizations present significant challenges for investigators who design interventions. The situation is further compounded by an investment in funding that hugely supports the discovery of interventions as opposed to the dissemination of interventions that have demonstrated efficacy. The National Public Health Agenda for Osteoarthritis: 2020 Update presents a blueprint that includes nine strategies for improving public health outcomes among persons with OA. These recommendations should be considered by interventionists in the future when developing programs. Other areas that can substantially benefit from further research include weight management and weight loss, injury prevention, technology-based interventions, addressing comorbid conditions, and understanding program mechanisms of action. Finally, underscoring all of these approaches and common to them is the need to enroll underserved populations to improve health equity. Underserved populations disproportionately include African Americans, Hispanics, persons with low socioeconomic status, and persons who live in rural areas of the United States. Policy recommendations to render future approaches to improving health outcomes for persons with OA are (a) to increase funding for the dissemination of programs that demonstrated efficacy and effectiveness, (b) to increase the transparency of the review and funding processes across public agencies, and (c) to nurture, broker, and provide sustainable funding streams to maintain evidence-based programming for all persons with OA across the United States.


Prevention of Suicide  

Danuta Wasserman

Around 700,000 people take their lives each year worldwide. Suicide accounts for approximately 1.3% of all deaths and therefore represents a major public health problem. The global age-standardized suicide rate is 9 per 100,000 population, yet there are large variations among genders, ages, countries, and world regions. The stress–vulnerability model of suicidal behaviors has been proposed to explain how a diathesis, developed through the influence of genetic and neurodevelopmental factors in relation to perinatal, postnatal, and life experiences, interacts with different risk and protective factors that either decrease or enhance the individual’s level of resilience to stress and suicidal risk. Public health suicide prevention strategies include suicide means restriction, reducing harmful substance use, promoting responsible media reporting, public-awareness campaigns, gatekeeper trainings, school-based interventions, crisis helplines, and postvention. Mental health strategies comprise identification, treatment, and rehabilitation of persons in distress and at risk for suicide. Multicomponent strategies that use a combination of evidence-based methods from public and mental health sectors are recommended. Future work should aim at enhancing the quality of epidemiological data, improving the research on protective and ideation-to-action factors, expanding the quantity and quality of data coming from low- and middle-income countries, and evaluating the cost-effectiveness of different suicide prevention strategies.


Regulating Quality in the Water Sector: A Theoretical Perspective  

Emmanuelle Auriol

Regulating quality is challenging because in public utilities such as water and sanitation, quality is multidimensional, is not always objectively measurable, and can be hard to verify, both ex ante and ex post. It is therefore useful to review the main insights from the New Economics of Regulation theoretical literature on quality provision to guide public policy. Focusing on formal utilities, this normative approach emphasizes the asymmetry of information between a regulator and the regulated companies. The analysis shows that when quality is verifiable, it can be included in a contract exactly like a quantity variable. Its provision, however, will be distorted as a result of regulated quantities also being distorted due to asymmetric information. When quality and quantity are complements, service quality ends up being lower because in the optimal regulatory contract, quantities are distorted downward for rent extraction. If quality is not verifiable but is observable by the users, the operator freely chooses its quality investment. It tends to underprovide quality when an improvement in quality raises the gross consumer surplus more than it increases the gross profit of sales because it does not take into account the nonmonetary benefit generated by its investment. It tends to overprovide quality otherwise. In order to correct these distortions, the regulator has to use a production allocation rule to simultaneously lower the informational rent and boost quality. The regulator has a single instrument to achieve the conflicting goals of rent extraction and quality provision. Quantities can be higher or lower than the first-best optimal levels depending on the correction needed to control quality. Finally, when quality is neither verifiable nor observable by consumers, as is typically the case with credence attributes such as those concerning process of production impacting security or pollution, the optimal level of quality investment from the firm’s perspective is zero. In this case, the easiest solution is often to impose a minimum standard and either rely on certification agencies to ensure that this minimum target is met or directly audit the quality investments made by the regulator. Finally, when improving the quality of water and sanitation services requires the creation of new infrastructure or institution, the high opportunity cost of public funds in developing countries raises the question of whether it is optimal to commit public funds for such investments. The analysis illuminates the trade-off between financing those investments with private funds and protecting consumer surplus.


Street Science: Community Knowledge for Global Health Equity  

Jason Corburn

Street science is the processes used by community residents to understand, document, and take action to address the environmental health issues they are experiencing. Street science is an increasingly essential process in global urban health, as more and more people live in complex environments where physical and social inequalities create cumulative disease burdens. Street science builds on a long tradition of critical public health that values local knowledge, participatory action research, and community-driven science, sometimes referred to as “citizen science.” Street scientists often partner with professional scientists, but science from the street does not necessarily fit into professional models, variables or other standards of positivist data. Street science is not one method, but rather an approach where residents are equally expert as professional scientists, and together they co-produce evidence for action. In this way, street science challenges conventional notions in global health and urban planning, which tend to divorce technical issues from their social setting and discourage a plurality of participants from engaging in everything from problem setting to decision-making. Street science does not romanticize local or community knowledge as always more accurate or superior to other ways of knowing and doing, but it also recognizes that local knowledge acts as an oppositional discourse that gives voice to the often silent suffering of disadvantaged people. At its best, street science can offer a framework for a new urban health science that incorporates community knowledge and expertise to ensure our cities and communities promote what is already working, confront the inequities experienced by the poor and vulnerable, and use this evidence to transform the physical and social conditions where people live, learn, work, and play.


Time in Health Promotion and Public Health  

Lyndall Strazdins

Being physically active and eating fresh foods could reduce the growing burdens of cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline, obesity, some cancers, diabetes type II, depression, and anxiety. Increasing these health behaviors has been a public health focus for decades, yet over one half of adults around the world remain insufficiently physically active and four in ten are overweight or obese. When people are asked why they don’t exercise more or eat healthy food, the most common reason they give is lack of time. Everyone has 24 hours in a day, so why do so many people say they lack time to be healthy? Time is a challenging (and intriguing) concept. Usually, time is thought about in terms of hours and minutes which evenly divide a day, and its lack a consequence of misguided priorities. This assumes that all hours are equal and available for use and that every person has agency over their time. Although having sufficient time is fundamental to health (exercising, preparing healthy food, resting, accessing services, and maintaining social bonds all take time), other dimensions such as control, flexibility, intensity, and timing are essential for understanding how time and health are connected. Like income, time is exchanged and given within households, so it can be fruitful to view time as a household resource rather than an individual’s resource. In the labor market, time is exchanged for payment, and this underscores time’s potency as a social and economic resource. Historically, research on the social determinants of health and health equity have focused on the harms linked to work hours, including the length and timing of the work day and flexible hours. Yet this research missed the importance of time outside the labor market, which alters the health consequence of work hours, delivering only a partial analysis of how time shapes health. Research since the early 2000s is supplying new evidence of the interplay between work, care, and other non-market time, allowing a more accurate insight into how time shapes health and how this relationship connects to social and gender equity. Debates remain, however, and these include the extent to which time pressure and time scarcity are problems of motivation and perception and whether time scarcity is a problem of only the affluent. There are precedents to address time costs and inequities. A first step for health prevention and health promotion practitioners is to value time in ways comparable to how the field values money. This would mean limiting the time costs of health interventions and services, including the requirement to “find time” outside of work or care roles to be healthy. The field also needs to challenge the idea that the income-poor are time-rich since this is rarely the case if they are caregivers. As well as minimizing time burdens, policies to address the social determinants of time from urban planning, transport systems, and work-hour regulations will be critical to achieving a fairer and healthier world.


Well-Being Economics  

Paul Dalziel and Trudi Cameron

A strong social gradient in the experience of health means that a person’s health tends to reflect social position. There is strong evidence that average health outcomes in a country tend to be poorer when income inequality is greater. Consequently, public health policy is influenced by a country’s economic situation. Adopting principles in the Helsinki Statement on Health in All Policies, this means governments should pay attention to the public health implications of its economic policies, moving beyond simple analyses of how policy might support growth in gross domestic product. Since 2009, a global movement has aimed to shift the emphasis of economic policy evaluation from measuring economic production to measuring people’s well-being. This approach is known as well-being economics. Many countries have engaged with citizens to create their own national well-being framework of statistical indicators. Some countries have passed legislation or designed new institutions to focus specific policy areas on promoting the well-being of current and future generations. A small number of countries are attempting to embed well-being in their core economic policies. Further policy work and research are required for the vision of a well-being economy to be realized.