Health Equity: What’s Working

Diagram illustrating the relationship between health and equalityWe have lots of ways to measure what’s not working in the United States. We can quickly pull the latest numbers that track growing inequalities in wealth and opportunity in our society, from displacement driven by gentrification and mounting student debt to low social mobility and gaping health disparities across lines of class and race.

But we also need to be able to measure what works – specifically, what factors contribute to making our society healthier and more equal. By doing so, we can determine our priorities and take the necessary steps to ensure all Americans have an equal opportunity to thrive, regardless of who they are or where they live.

Measuring What Works

Prevention Institute’s new report, Measuring What Works to Achieve Health Equity: Metrics for the Determinants of Health, provides a framework for understanding disparities in health outcomes and a set of metrics we can use to measure progress toward greater health equity.

Looking at life expectancy by zip code shows the power of geography in determining health outcomes.”

A national nonprofit dedicated to improving community health and well-being by building momentum for effective primary prevention, Prevention Institute brings a strong commitment to community participation and promotion of equitable health outcomes among all social and economic groups. Thus, for our new report, the Institute started by pinpointing the factors that shape health – from structural factors (how wealth and power are distributed across a society) to community conditions (from the quality of the air we breathe and water we drink to the safety of our streets and strength of our social networks), and health care access. Then we identified 35 metrics that can be used to track progress toward achieving greater health equity.

These metrics include:

  • the distribution of wealth
  • life expectancy by zip code
  • levels of neighborhood investment
  • access to healthy foods, safe places to play and transit options
  • housing affordability
  • exposure to environmental hazards like pollution
  • whether or not jobs in the community pay living wages

Achieving Equity

These kinds of metrics illuminate the social and economic landscape, showing the factors that determine whether communities will be healthy and safe, and make the case for range of  approaches to improving community health. For example, looking at life expectancy by zip code shows the power of geography in determining health outcomes, highlighting proximity to health-supporting resources and health hazards.

This resource can help inform work on some of the most critical issues facing our country today, from income inequality, climate change and trade to immigration, criminal justice reform and community safety. We need to make sure voices for health and equity shape the national dialogue. Measuring what works is a good place to start.

Measuring What Works to Achieve Health Equity was commissioned by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to inform discussion around metrics for the Foundation and the nation. Learn more about RWJF’s efforts to build a Culture of Health.


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