This is an excerpt from the new publication, Advancing Health Equity: Case Studies of Health Equity Practice in Four Award-Winning California Health Departments, that originally appeared on the Berkeley Media Studies Group's website.
Call any local health department in the United States and, chances are, you won't have much trouble finding information on the health problems its surrounding communities face. You might learn that a county's populations of color have higher rates of asthma than white community members, or that its low-income adults are more likely to experience a heart attack. Or you might discover that the region experiences excellent health overall but still struggles with wide differences in life expectancy from one neighborhood to the next.
That's because health departments are increasingly focused on understanding health inequities — unjust differences in health outcomes and longevity that can't be explained by genetics or individual behavior — and how to prevent them. Going beyond public health's traditional purview of infectious disease control and clinical services, many health departments are now exploring how social, economic, and political inequalities, all of which are rooted in power differences, are causing some groups to live sicker and die younger than others. These inequalities show up in indicators like education and income levels, rates of violence, and policies and practices that create advantages for some populations and disadvantages for others, based, for example, on race, gender, or sexuality.