Equity Benefits Everyone
People 2010 sets out two ambitious goals: The first, to increase quality and
length of healthy life. The second, to eliminate health disparities. In fact,
the two goals are inseparable. Achievement of one is not possible without
achievement of the other. Health cannot be improved for all without eliminating
health disparities—those inequalities or gaps between two or more groups
related to age, gender, race or ethnicity, education or income, disability,
geographic location, or sexual orientation.
Health disparities affect the Nation’s quality of life—at the individual level as well as the workplace and community. Some groups of individuals do not enjoy the same health status as other groups, and many questions remain unanswered about why such differences exist:
• Why is the heart disease death rate 40 percent higher for African Americans than the rate for whites?
• Why are Hispanics living in the United States twice as likely to die of diabetes as are non-Hispanic whites?
• Why is the infant death rate for American Indians and Alaska Natives almost double that for whites?
• Why do women outlive men?
• Why are gay male adolescents two to three times more likely than their peers to attempt suicide?
• Why are population groups that suffer the worst health status also those that have the highest poverty rates and the least education?
• Why do people with disabilities report more anxiety, pain, sleeplessness, and days of depression than do people without activity limitations?
• Why is the injury-related death rate 40 percent higher in rural populations than in urban populations?
To be productive, the
workforce must be healthy. Raising the health status of employees has a positive
impact on individual companies and the economy as a whole.
At the community level, many
different factors affect quality of life and create health disparities. For
example, residents of substandard housing may be at increased risk for fire,
electrical injuries, lead poisoning, falls, rat bites, and other illnesses and
injuries. Even the size of a community is a factor. According to the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency, small water systems (serving 25 to 3,300
people) account for 91 percent of the violations of its drinking water
regulations. Safe drinking water is important to health; so are safe streets and
certain groups and communities do not have access to quality health care,
the long-term cost to individuals, the economy, indeed society as a whole,
can be substantial. The
future health of America as a whole will be influenced substantially by our
success in improving the health of all populations.
Even when some types of
health disparities are eliminated, other factors may come into play. Health
disparities are extremely complex. For example, the long-standing gaps between
life expectancy of men and women and between whites and African Americans have
narrowed. Yet, major differences persist depending on income and education.
Healthy People 2010 challenges everyone to take steps to ensure that good health, as well as long life, is enjoyed by all. Under the Healthy People umbrella, specific actions are under way. On the Web site http://www.health.gov/healthypeople/ read about implementation, find out how to “Be a Healthy Person,” and access the Healthy People 2010 Toolkit: A Field Guide to Health Planning, developed by the Public Health Foundation. With such tools as well as greater awareness and knowledge about the real costs of health disparities, everyone can commit to meeting the challenge of working together to achieve Healthy People’s ambitious and important vision: healthy people in healthy communities.