What Causes Health Inequities?

By Peter Gamache, Ph.D. & Jackie Sue Griffin, MBA, MS, Turnaround Life, Inc.

Ideally, every member of a community should have an opportunity to thrive and reach their full potential in their life and work: access to good jobs, quality schools, healthy foods, quality healthcare, safe neighborhoods and affordable housing. In reality, not everyone has these opportunities, and this is what we call inequity.

Working against inequity includes removing obstacles to health, like discrimination, poverty and their consequences.

Health inequalities are the avoidable and unjust differences in people’s health across one population and between population groups. Some authors, especially in North America, use “inequalities” for differences between groups and “inequities” for unjust differences.

For example, though predetermined and biological differences can also cause inequalities, they are not called inequities. Since they are not caused by systemic or social factors, they cannot be considered “unfair.”

The root causes of health inequalities are the unequal distribution of power, income and wealth. This can lead to marginalization and poverty. These causes also affect the distribution of other environmental influences on health, including the availability of:

  • Education
  • Work
  • Quality housing

They can also influence access to services and social and cultural opportunities in one area or in society as a whole. The environment where people live and work affects their individual experiences with:

  • Income
  • Discrimination
  • Housing
  • Access to health services

Other causes of health inequality can be, amongst others, water supply, environment and disposable income.

Health inequity causes can usually be organized in two clusters:

  • The unequal allocation of resources and power, such as goods, services and societal care, which manifests itself in unequal economic, social and environmental conditions, also known as the determinants of health.
  • Structural inequities that organize the distribution of resources and power differently across lines of race, class, gender, sexual orientation and other dimensions of the group and individual identity.

Interventions that would target these root causes are the best solution for promoting health equity. To tackle health inequities, communities must remove obstacles to health like discrimination, poverty and their consequences, which include lack of access to good education and housing, safe environments, well-paying jobs and quality healthcare.

A nation’s well-being depends partially on the well-being of its communities, yet many communities are facing the problem of insufficient resources to fully thrive. This lack of opportunity leads to disparities in health outcomes and health status between different areas of a country.

Structural inequities run deeply in society, and they include problems in policy, governance, law and culture. Inequities, such as ongoing and historical poverty, structural racism, and discrimination, can be mitigated by community action and policies in more ways than one, some of which we’ll delve into in our next blog.

Here at Turnaround Life, Inc., we aim to help organizations and programs that make it possible for people to turn their lives around. For more information about us, visit our website.

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