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Inequalities and Inequities in the Health of People With Intellectual Disabilities  

Eric Emerson

Children and adults with intellectual disabilities have poorer health and are more likely to die sooner than their non–intellectually disabled peers. There is growing evidence that some of these inequalities in health are avoidable, unjust, and unfair, given that they are driven by the higher rates of exposure of people with intellectual disabilities to well-established social determinants of poor health. People with intellectual disabilities are more likely than their peers to: live in poverty, not be employed (or if employed to work under precarious conditions), be exposed to discrimination and violence, face significant barriers in accessing effective health care, and be less resilient when exposed to adversities. In other words, they are examples of health inequities that arise from “the societal conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age, referred to as social determinants of health. These include early years’ experiences, education, economic status, employment and decent work, housing and environment, and effective systems of preventing and treating ill health” (World Health Organization). Future research needs to address three key issues. First, most of the existing evidence is based on the experiences of people with intellectual disabilities in the world’s high-income countries. In contrast, the vast majority of the world’s population live in middle- and low-income countries. The limited evidence available suggests that children with intellectual disabilities growing up in middle- and low-income countries are much more likely than their peers to be growing up in poverty and to be exposed to specific social determinants of poorer health associated with poverty such as undernutrition, poor sanitation, low levels of parental stimulation, violent parental discipline, and hazardous forms of child labor. Second, little research has focused on health inequalities and inequities among two important groups of people with intellectual disabilities: people with intellectual disabilities from minority ethnic communities and people with mild intellectual disabilities. Third, very little research has attempted to test the proposition that people with intellectual disabilities may be more or less resilient than their peers when exposed to social determinants of health. While much remains to be learned about the inequalities and inequities faced by people with intellectual disabilities, the existing knowledge is sufficient to guide and drive changes in policy and practice that could reduce the health inequities faced by people with intellectual disabilities. These include: improving the visibility of people with intellectual disabilities in local, national, and international health surveillance systems; making “reasonable accommodations” to the operation of health care systems (e.g., introducing annual health checks into primary care services, making “easy read” materials available, employing intellectual disabilities liaison nurses in acute hospitals) to ensure that people with intellectual disabilities are not exposed to systemic discrimination; and ensuring that people with intellectual disabilities (along with all other people with disabilities) are included in and benefit equally from local and national strategies to reduce population levels of exposure to well-established social determinants of poor health.

Article

Health Inequities in Aging Adults from a Public Health Perspective  

Steven Wallace

Inequities in the United States have gained renewed attention as a result of social movements such as Black Lives Matter (racism), Me Too (sexual abuse and gender), and immigrant rights. Yet despite the growing awareness of inequality across major social categories, there has been little or no public attention paid to the persistent inequities facing older adults. The news media in the 2020 presidential elections uncritically reported charges that one, or both, candidates were “too old” for the job or had some other liability tied primarily to their age. There is a whole field of “anti-aging” medicine that claims to slow the biological process of senescence (distinct from fighting specific diseases), even as the greatest challenges of growing older are rooted in social and political processes. This reflects the ageism in society that results in undervaluing older adults’ lives and often marginalizes them. In addition, there are serious inequities within the older population based on class, race, gender, and citizenship status. Health inequities involve conditions that are avoidable, are not the result of informed choice (e.g., injuries among extreme sports participants), and which differ by membership in groups that hold different levels of power and resources. As such, inequities also include an element of “unfairness” such that the disadvantage is in groups with less power and resources than others.

Article

Priming Healthcare for Health Equity Management  

Ebbin D. Dotson, Kimson E. Johnson, and Jada Irving

Health equity management (HEM) is defined as an actionable framework that supports the development of an industry-defining position for healthcare organizations and senior leaders to guide their business practices for investments in and financial gains from health equity. As healthcare leaders confront the disparate racial and ethnic burdens caused by the nation’s racialized societal history, making investments that increase health equity can help eliminate health disparities. To achieve health equity, leaders must cultivate a sense of interdependence among stakeholders and community members to effectively communicate the importance of collaboration, which is a shared understanding of the necessary actions that engage stakeholders around a central purpose. Achieving health equity forces healthcare systems to consider the notion that creating an equitable environment, where the costs of health inequity and barriers to achieving community and population health are shared with stakeholders and community members, might be addressed by the modification of certain management practices. HEM encompasses an applied management model to help healthcare organizations maximize their efforts to increase health equity for vulnerable populations. It provides a stepwise approach to help frame the social, economic, and educational changes necessary for leaders to invest in health equity initiatives. The HEM involves the following actions: (a) redefining health equity, (b) identifying upstream inequalities, (c) realigning fiscal investments, and (d) leveraging community partnerships. Establishing and sustaining health equity initiatives through HEM ensures that both economic and social criteria are systematically considered, and financial investments are prioritized for sustained impact. Without addressing all four, the efforts of healthcare organizations will fall short of what it will take to effect lasting change. Redefining health equity requires incorporating upstream and downstream inequities to offer a lens to align mission, assess capacity, and leverage profitable partnerships. The systematic approach to HEM goals and principles can be integrated at various organizational levels as a tool to successfully address health inequalities and social determinants of health.

Article

Health of Indigenous Peoples in Brazil: Inequities and the Uneven Trajectory of Public Policies  

Ricardo Ventura Santos, James R. Welch, Ana Lucia Pontes, Luiza Garnelo, Andrey Moreira Cardoso, and Carlos E. A Coimbra Jr.

Victims of epidemics, slavery, genocide, and countless other episodes of violence during the colonial enterprise in Brazil, which continues decades into the 21st century in some regions, Indigenous peoples face health inequities resulting from a five-century history of social marginalization and vulnerability. Since the late 1990s, the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples in the country have benefited from progressive legislation that values sociocultural diversity within a public primary healthcare subsystem attending to Indigenous peoples living in federal Indigenous lands. However, these transcultural ideals remain elusive in practice. The Indigenous Healthcare Subsystem continues to suffer from numerous systemic problems, including low quality of local services, lack of health professional training for work in intercultural contexts, and unpreparedness for attending to health emergencies involving Indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation. Being Indigenous in Brazil in the 2020s implies greater chances of higher infant mortality, lower life expectancy, suffering from undernutrition and anemia during childhood, living with a high burden of infectious and parasitic diseases, being exposed to a swift process of nutritional transition, and experiencing a surge in chronic violence. Community case studies have shown the importance of close patient follow-up over long periods of time, the heavy burden of disease due to nutrition transition since the mid-1980s, the relevance of international reference curves for evaluating Indigenous child undernutrition, and failures of primary healthcare provided to Indigenous populations. Improvements in national health information systems in Brazil beginning in the early 2000s have shown external causes, perinatal diseases, infectious and parasitic diseases, and respiratory diseases to be the leading causes of death among the country’s Indigenous population.

Article

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.

Article

Cities, Health, and Intersectorialities  

Marco Akerman, Gabriela Murillo Sancho, and Samuel Jorge Moysés

Cities have been considered in many places and times a cornerstone of innovation and wealth creation in society, fostering the privilege of more comfortable lives, with existential dignity and producing healthier generations, as well as an important source of pathogenic determinants. The concept of health in cities and its intersectoral relationships unfolds in a new era of urban sociability, mediated by technologies that connect citizens in social networks and in many services provided by digital platforms. All changes have their respective economic and cost-effective impacts. Healthy cities, or smart and sustainable cities, intend to express well-being and the fulfillment of good health among people who enjoy social inclusion, effectively using policies and services concentrated in the most developed cities. However, the extent of the challenges that permeate the current urban civilization cycle is also related to the social inequities manifested in health problems and public mismanagement in cities around the world. It is necessary to think about the integration of the intersectoral habitus of conceptualizing health promotion, considering all its inclusive scope of diversity, without leaving any social and identity group out, with a view to the full realization of healthy cities. There is an ethical, political, and cultural imperative to urgently adopt an ecosocial approach to promoting the health of populations in cities around the world, recognizing the interactions between ecological determinants (all planetary systems and living species) and the very internal dispositions of what constitutes human health.

Article

The Political Determinants of Health: A Global Panacea for Health Inequities  

Daniel E. Dawes, Christian M. Amador, and Nelson J. Dunlap

The political determinants of health create the structural conditions and the social drivers—including poor environmental conditions, inadequate transportation, unsafe neighborhoods, poor and unstable housing, and lack of healthy food options—that affect all dynamics involved in health. Globally, recurring examples of the role that these political determinants—through government action or inaction, and policy—are playing in health outcomes and life expectancy, particularly in under-resourced communities, can be observed currently as well as historically. Most notably, the political determinants of health are more than merely separate and distinct from social determinants of health: they serve as the instigators of the social determinants of health with which many people are already well acquainted. They involve the systematic process of structuring relationships, distributing resources, and administering power, operating simultaneously in ways that mutually reinforce or influence one another to shape opportunities that either advance health equity or exacerbate health inequities. Focusing on the political determinants of health homes in on the fundamental causes that give rise to, sustain, and exacerbate the social determinants of health that create and worsen the persistent and devastating health inequities that are observed, experienced, researched, and reported. By employing both a theoretical and practical lens to the amelioration of health inequities that continue to pervade communities across the globe, the article contextualizes many of the historic harms that have occurred throughout history, providing a unique perspective on the current state of affairs, and offering a tangible path forward toward a more equitable future. Furthermore, consideration of this new framework at all levels of government as it relates to improving health outcomes for any nation is imperative in order to eliminate existential threats for any and all populations.