Health Equity and Public Health Promotion
Health, as defined by the World Health Organization, is a state of full physical, emotional and social well being and not just the absence of illness and infirmity. Various definitions have been utilized over the years. However, from a holistic point of view, what is important is the well being of human beings as a whole, rather than focusing on individual areas. This article briefly covers some of the more popular holistic definitions used these days.
“Well-Being” is the mixture of physiological, psychological and social factors that produce an individual’s ability to cope with the demands of life. It is therefore a state of fullness that inspires a person to make choices that are in his best interest. People come into the world with varying strengths and abilities. What gives them emotional, spiritual and cognitive advantages is what they need to develop so that they can achieve their maximum potential. It is in this process that governments, health care providers and individuals came together. Public health, medical care, education, development and policies all work towards creating well-being among individuals and communities.
The first definition of “good health” as it applies to holistic philosophy is social determinants. People come into the world with varying strengths and needs. Some will find emotional support, others will have the resources needed for self-care, while some will require health care. All these help create individual well-being; it is the combination of the determinants that create the gradient of inadequate or unhealthy environments. Health-related stress factors such as structural barriers to access to health services and social determinants such as beliefs about physical and mental health are the main obstacles to achieving good health.
The second part of the triad is the two primary determinants: biological and environmental factors. People differ in their innate capacities for health and well-being. There are a wide range of individual differences in the quality of their lives (including attitudes, coping strategies, health beliefs, stress tolerance, etc. ), health behaviors and environments (e.g., poverty, gender, race, SES, geographic region, diet, exercise, life style, smoking, alcohol use, health insurance), and susceptibility to environmental factors (e.g., air pollution, ultraviolet light, occupational exposure, lead). These differences contribute to poor health outcomes and should be considered when designing interventions aimed at improving overall health.
The third factor is an important consideration: socioeconomic status. Socioeconomic status is influenced by genes, family history, and life experiences. However, some health behaviors (e.g., smoking, alcohol use) or environmental factors (e.g., exposure to hazardous substances) also affect socioeconomic status. A poor socioeconomic status may deter from accessing health services and may also cause increased mortality rate. This effect can be especially strong for people who live in rural areas and are exposed to higher levels of environmental risks such as higher levels of air pollution or ultraviolet light exposure. Therefore, interventions targeting socioeconomic status should take into account life expectancy and health quality of life.
To address health inequities, health professionals should conduct public health promotion activities aimed at reducing health disparities and promoting optimal health. These activities should be integrated with interventions designed to improve overall health, improve quality of life, reduce morbidity and mortality, promote proper functioning of the social and economic structure, reduce stress and prevent premature death. These activities can be developed by government at the community, national, and regional levels and by private organizations that target specific communities, races, or genders. A multi-faceted approach is needed to tackle health equity.