Social determinants of health, part 3

This is the final post in a three-part series on social determinants of health, collaboratively written by KHA staff members Lisa Gary, Khadija Jahfiya and Jasmine Hall Ratliff.

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What do you think of when you hear the term public health? Most people think of vaccinations and infectious diseases. Although the term is rather vague, public health can apply to everything. The American Public Health Association (APHA) defines public health as work that “promotes and protects the health of people and the communities where they live, learn, work and play.” This includes preventing diseases and injuries, encouraging healthy lifestyles, and promoting equity to diminish health disparities.

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The picture to the left helps us to better understand how to define equity by comparing equality and equity. Equality is giving everyone the same tools, resources, and opportunities. This can result in disparities (as depicted). Whereas, equity adjusts for gaps in tools, resources, and opportunities.

One major indicator for health disparities is race, a social construct rooted in white-supremacy and discrimination. Racial health disparities include differences in maternal morbidity, breast cancer rates, and homicide rates. According to the Center for Social Inclusion, achieving racial equity means acknowledging and accounting for inequities and providing infrastructure to those most impacted by racial inequalities.

As previously mentioned, diminishing health disparities is a goal of public health. Thus, equity should be at the forefront of public health efforts. Understanding the factors that may influence health outcomes for a particular population helps public health practitioners to pinpoint strategies to address those health outcomes. An example of racial equity in public health is Project Brotherhood, a Chicago-based clinic for black men. This organization had the goal of improving the health of black men in a Chicago community. In recognition of poor health outcomes among this population and limited participation in the health system, Project Brotherhood created a safe space where black men could feel comfortable seeking out care.

The key to initiatives like Project Brotherhood is understanding the needs of a vulnerable population relative to health outcomes they are disproportionately facing. Once these needs are examined, strategies to address these needs should be developed. This is pertinent to achieving racial equity in public health.