Equity 101 – Environmental public health organizations can support health equity

Printer Friendly, PDF & Email

Tuesday, January 22, 2019
Karen Rideout

This is the second of three posts about the Equity 101 videos from the BC Centre for Disease Control. Each of five videos looks at a different aspect of how health equity relates to environmental public health (EPH) practice. As described in our first blog post, the first three videos explain key concepts and describe health equity in the context of EPH.

Video 4 guides managers and decision makers who are uncertain how their organization can act to support health equity. What Health Protection can do to support health equity is a short video that shows:

  • how public health authorities, departments, or health units can start to incorporate health equity thinking into programs and policies, and
  • how managers can support EPH professionals (e.g., environmental health officers or public health inspectors).

Overcome the hurdles

Health equity — when everyone has a fair opportunity to reach their full health potential without disadvantage caused by their social, economic, or environmental circumstances (see the NCCDH Glossary for more information) — is a broad issue that may not always seem directly relevant to environmental health practice. However, being able to understand and address inequities is an important focus for all health sectors. It’s also helpful to consider that environments have physical, built, and social elements – and that all three aspects influence people’s health.

  • EPH has a mandate to support and protect the public’s health. Even if you don’t specifically work on social issues, it is important to consider underlying factors that influence public health in general and environmental health more directly.
  • EPH enforces legislation through regulations that apply to everyone. A health equity approach doesn’t mean relaxing the rules.  A health equity approach can be compatible and complimentary to regulatory enforcement. 
  • Health equity is too big for one organization to address. Broader factors that cause health inequities are complex and cannot be fully addressed by one single agency or sector. Everyone has a role and we all need to work together.
  • EPH professionals are trained to deal with technical issues. They also come from a wide range of backgrounds and can benefit from a growing suite of professional development opportunities.
  • Time and financial budgets are stretched already. You may find efficiencies by addressing ongoing or repeated problems that strain resources by integrating new approaches and knowledge.

Build capacity for health equity in environmental public health

The video offers five strategies organizations can use to facilitate health equity actions.

  1. Articulate a vision of what health equity means to your organization. That will help identify what you can do right now and what you need in order to realize that vision.
  2. Look for policy levers. Equity features in many existing public health frameworks, policy statements about diversity, cultural safety, equity, or inclusion, and can be written into service plans and directives.
  3. Embrace the complexity. Dealing with broad issues like health equity can be messy, so it’s important to trust the process, accept a little uncertainty, and find concrete ways to support staff efforts.
  4. Look for resources and supports. Integrate staff training into regular professional development sessions or staff meetings. Over time, look for new sources of funding and consider how programs might be designed and delivered differently.
  5. Champion the issues. Because health equity is relatively new to practice, you can lead the way by raising the issue, initiating collaboration, and celebrating staff efforts.

If you are an environmental public health leader interested in introducing health equity concepts to your staff or building organizational capacity in your agency, the BC Centre for Disease Control has a new Health Equity Workshop Toolkit that includes ready-made and customizable resources you can use to create a professional development or planning session.

In the next blog post, you will read about strategies that individual practitioners like environmental health officers or public health inspectors can use to support health equity in their day to day work.

Learn more

Watch all five videos to earn 1 PDH credit toward the CIPHI Continuing Professional Competencies program. Log on to the CIPHI Member Service Centre to submit your time.

Author bio:

Dr. Karen Rideout is a food systems and environmental health specialist whose work focuses on the social, cultural, and environmental influences on health. Using her experience in research and policy analysis, she creates practical evidence-based tools and facilitates creativity and collaboration. As principal of Karen Rideout Consulting she facilitates cross-sector engagement with diverse professionals to create healthier built environments, healthier public policies, and healthier food systems.