Every April 7th marks World Health Day, which highlights one priority area of concern for the World Health Organization to raise awareness about the issue. The occasion has been recognized since 1950 following the 1948 First Health Assembly, and since then it has brought global attention to matters like maternal care, mental health, and even climate change.
The 2021 World Health Day campaign will be focused on “building a fairer, healthier world.” The organization says that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought this to light in an even more obvious way. The difference between access to health care for some groups versus others is stark, and there are a number of contributing factors that could be prevented.
People who have lower incomes or live in poverty around the world often have poorer housing conditions, fewer employment opportunities, experience greater gender inequality, and have little or no access to resources like safe environments, clean water, food security, and health services. As a result, they are disproportionately unwell, experiencing unnecessary suffering, illness, and even premature death.
World Health Day 2021 is focused on promoting equal access to healthcare and wellness around the world by encouraging leaders to “ensure that everyone has living and working conditions conducive to good health.” As part of that campaign, the WHO is also urging leaders to “monitor health inequities and to ensure all people are able to access quality health care services when and where they need them.”
If you haven’t been affected by health inequality, chances are you know someone who has. The cost of healthcare is extremely high, and insurance can be complicated and expensive.
In the U.S., when measuring household income versus life expectancy, the top 1 percent live 10-15 years longer than the bottom 1 percent. There are many factors contributing to this, including the higher cost for healthier foods, lack of access to recreational facilities in poorer areas, and higher stress levels for lower income families.
According to Tulane University’s school of social work, 23.5 million Americans live in “food deserts,” which are defined by the American Nutrition Association as “parts of the country lacking adequate supply of fresh fruit, vegetables and other healthy whole foods, usually impoverished areas.”
In the case of housing, the CDC states that for every 100 renters with extremely low incomes, there are only 33 available public housing units. It’s easy to draw the line between how living in a food desert or not having adequate housing would affect your overall health and wellbeing.
Other factors can affect health equality too, such as where you live.
The CDC reports that Americans living in rural areas are more likely to die from unintentional injuries, heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic lower, and respiratory disease than people in urban areas. Learn more about significant health disparities in the U.S. on the CDC’s website. And it doesn’t just affect those specific people; it affects the healthcare system as a whole.
“According to a 2018 study by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Altarum, health disparities cost $42 billion in lowered productivity and $93 billion in excess medical costs each year,” the National Conference of State Legislatures reports.
There are many other examples of health inequality both in the U.S. and around the world. Globally, health inequality is even seen clearly in data like cancer death rates, which are significantly lower in richer countries than poorer countries.
So many people around the world — and in our own backyards — are living without access to the resources they need to stay healthy, simply because of where and when they were born. A healthy life should be an option for everyone.
If we work toward prevention across the board, we can minimize healthcare expenses and narrow the gap in wellness at the same time.
This year you can celebrate World Health Day by helping raise awareness about the need for a fairer and healthier world.
Consider doing some research about your state and the health disparities there. Write a letter to your governor, mayor, or representative to express your support for health equality. There may also be organizations with which you can volunteer or relevant causes you can support to increase health equality in your area. Could you help provide health education through a clinic or organization to lower income families or immigrant families that may need assistance navigating healthcare in the U.S.? Try to be creative about how you and your family can promote a fairer and healthier world.
To be a part of the solution, you can also be proactive about your own health by engaging in preventative measures like eating well, exercising, and getting regular checkups and screenings. Encourage your loved ones and neighbors to do the same.
If you want to be proactive about your health and encourage others to as well, getting screened is a great way to do it. Not only are they easy and non-invasive, they can help you save on health costs down the road by detecting problems early.
Life Line Screening offers a wide range of services that assess cardiovascular health, kidney health, diabetes and more. It’s important to be informed about your health so you can prevent issues before they start, especially if you exhibit any risk factors like family history for a specific disease or existing health complications like high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
WHO – World Health Day
Inequality.org – Inequality and Health
Tulane University – Food Deserts in America
NCSL – Health Disparities Overview
CDC – Health Disparities