We Are Public Health: Public Health and Equity

by Lisa Vasquez, NHPHA Communications Committee Chair

There has been much conversation this year surrounding equity, especially when it comes to public health. COVID-19 has highlighted many of the issues of inequity that may not have been as visible before. When public health professionals talk about health equity, they mean achieving that every person has the opportunity to attain their full health potential (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). There are so many barriers for many people to achieve their full health potential, be it poverty, lack of access to health care, lack of access to healthy foods, or lack of access to a healthy home among other barriers. When we look at COVID-19, we see that people of color and those in a lower socioeconomic status are disproportionally impacted by COVID-19. When we look at why this is happening, we see that many people in these populations may live in multigenerational homes and have essential jobs where they are unable to work from home. We know that unemployment is at a high rate, which means people that many people who may have had access to health insurance in the past through their employer may not currently have access. We also know that mental health affects our physical health. COVID-19-related stress and anxiety are high, and if we add holiday stress, it just compounds the stress and anxiety levels people are feeling.

When looking for a positive in this situation, we can see that we have increased knowledge of the barriers that create inequity, and that creates an opportunity for ACTION. The United States has the most expensive health care system in the world, with not so great outcomes. We see that the mortality rate for American citizens has increased over the last few years due to the opioid and mental health crisis. The health care system in the U.S. is wonderful for acute crises, but when it comes to prevention of chronic disease, we have a long way to go. Chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes cost millions to manage, yet we spend little on preventing these diseases. We have an opportunity now to create change. This is an opportunity for advocacy. Learn more about what your elected officials are doing to create more health equity. Learn about policies that have worked to create health equity and advocate for those policies to be replicated or implemented in your area. Support nonprofits that work on creating opportunities for equity in your community. When more people are able to attain their full health potential, we have healthier, more resilient communities, and when we focus on preventing chronic disease, we can spend less on health care costs.

If you would like to become more involved in health equity work, join NHPHA and be an active participant. You can join one of our committees, such as the policy committee, which works to advocate for policies that decrease barriers to health equity. We all want a healthier, more resilient New Hampshire. We need to take action to create the world we want to see. Change needs YOU to make it happen.

Photo by Zach Vessels on Unsplash.

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