Learning series highlights health equity

By Tamera Manzanaresequity-vs-equality-apples2

Three children, all different heights, are standing beneath an apple tree. Each child stands on a small box, but only the tallest can reach the fruit. The shorter children receive more boxes so they too can reach the apples. The three children stand at different levels but all benefit from what the tree has to offer.

Equality and equity are not the same thing. Equality gives everyone the same step toward good health and opportunity. Equity recognizes that some people, because of the conditions in which they grow, live, work and age, need an extra boost. This idea is fueling a worldwide movement to address and end disparities preventing vulnerable populations from having a fair chance to be healthy and live productive lives. This process, driven by growing diversity and health challenges in our own region, is also happening locally.

An upcoming education series in Steamboat Springs aims to engage the community in conversations about factors, big and small, influencing how residents of all ages and backgrounds in Routt County can have the prospect of good health. The Health Equity Learning Series kicks off October 13 with a presentation and discussion with Deliana Garcia, director of International Projects, Research and Development for the Migrant Clinicians Network in Austin, Texas. Northwest Colorado Health is hosting the event from 6 to 8 p.m. at Bud Werner Library. “We need voices from throughout the community,” said Charity Neal, director of Public Health at Northwest Colorado Health. “We’d love to have not just traditional policy and change makers but those people who are affected by policy when it happens.”

Complex and interconnected dynamics of our economic system, social and physical environment and health services determine many aspects of our health. Schools, education, literacy, language, employment, income, working conditions, housing, transportation, parks and recreation, healthy food access, clean air and water, race and social networks can profoundly affect our ability to combat stress, fight disease and raise healthy families. “Social determinants of health are the causes of poor health that a pill can’t fix,” Neal said. Unemployment or financial challenges can make it difficult for families to find housing and transportation, affordable healthcare and preventative health services. This can result in problems such as chronic illness, substance abuse and violence in and outside of the home. Children facing a high stress home environment may not have adequate sleep, food or healthcare when they are sick. This will affect their behavior and ability to learn in school and, in turn, their education, employment and long term health. “Those social aspects of health cause high healthcare costs across the board, which affects everyone,” Neal said.

Community members are the most important participants in the health equity process. Many people are affected by health disparities at some level so they must be involved in the process of identifying the problems and helping champion solutions. “It’s about looking at how we embrace and work with people’s differences to improve the strength and health of our communities as a whole,” she said. The Health Learning Series will include a light dinner. Please RSVP by calling 970-871-7323.

This article includes information from the Colorado Trust.

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