From 1900 to 2000, the average life expectancy in the US increased from 47 to 77 years with medical advances and increased living standards being given much of the credit. If health equity had already been achieved, each person would have a similar and fair opportunity for excellent health. Everyone would have much the same quality and length of life, rates and severity of disease and disability as well as equal access to healthcare and treatment. Currently, there are large differences in people’s health outcomes depending on their socially determined circumstances. Social determinants of health include: health care quality and access, economic stability, education access and quality, neighborhood and built environment, and social and community context. These determinants result in the unequal chance for each person to reach their full health potential.
Differences in the health status of different groups, or health disparities, occur when a particular group of people bears a higher burden of disease or death compared with other groups. A recent example is the COVID-19 pandemic racial health disparities. Data gathered toward the beginning of the pandemic showed that the virus disproportionately and severely affected Black, Latinx, and Native American people. The health inequity and disparities that became so obvious during the current pandemic were not new and have been present for many years. When the health of members of the population is compromised this damages the entire society.
It is important to examine health disparities and inequities to determine how to address them in order to promote health equity. If health inequity continues to be the norm, then large groups of people will not be able to reach their full health potential and will not be fully able to contribute to society.
What groups are vulnerable to poor health outcomes and what is being done to promote their well-being? Are all groups well represented in research studies so that all can take advantage of health technology and treatments? Exploring these questions can foster health equity and enable the full health of all people and a prosperous society.