Equity 101 – Health Equity Videos for Environmental Public Health Professionals

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Tuesday, January 22, 2019
Karen Rideout

The BC Centre for Disease Control created a series of five short animated videos about health equity for environmental public health (EPH) professionals. Equity 101 provides a simple and quick overview of health equity concepts and issues specifically targeted to environmental health officers (EHOs) and Health Protection leaders in British Columbia (but relevant to EPH across Canada). Each video is 5-7 minutes long and addresses a specific aspect of health equity in relation to environmental health practice.

This is the first of three posts about the video series. Here, you will learn more about Videos 1–3, which introduce health equity and use examples to show how it relates to EPH practice.

What is health equity?

Health equity is achieved 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). Equity is a general concept that relates to all health fields, but the conversation about health equity in EPH is still new. The first video introduces the general idea of health equity using illustrations specific to EPH practice. Video 1 – Introduction to health equity for EPH professionals – defines health equity and the social determinants of health and explains the difference between equity and equality.

Video 2 – Introduction to the social determinants of health for EPH professionals – continues to clarify what health equity means by focusing on the social determinants of health. A series of short, illustrative examples show how factors like socioeconomic status, culture, language, education, mental health, or geography might impact environmental health-related behaviours. These are just some of the underlying issues that can influence health equity.

Health equity is important for EPH practitioners

The first two videos articulate three ways you can consider health equity and the social determinants of health in EPH work:

  1. Learn to recognize barriers that might exist behind the scenes, making it difficult for people to comply with regulations or follow your guidance. Acknowledge these barriers and try to help people work around them.
  2. Try to look at the bigger picture. Maybe you can help people access services they need. Even if you can’t fix the underlying issues, it’s important to consider them so good intentions don’t increase inequities or create new problems.
  3.  Be open to new approaches and know that long term approaches depend on collaboration with colleagues withfin and outside environmental health – and even outside the health sector.

Health equity affects all areas of EPH practice

The third video explores How the social determinants of health impact EPH practice settings. It shows how the social determinants of health can arise in common EPH practice settings. For example, some food premises operators experience language barriers. For others, low literacy or a lack of education makes it difficult to understand inspection reports or develop food safety plans – but you, as inspector, may not know about those challenges. Some operators may have had negative experiences that led them to fear or distrust inspectors. In some regions, people have difficulty accessing expertise or materials to repair essential equipment. These and other issues can affect your work in personal services, drinking water, housing, or other settings.

If your work includes a healthy built environment (HBE) focus, social determinants can create underlying issues that impact your interactions with people. HBE work also provides opportunities for you to influence changes that support health equity. You can leverage your input on land use or community plans to advocate for healthier environments for all people, and to bring a health equity perspective to those decisions.

Start the conversation

These introductory videos are a good place to start if you are not familiar with health equity – or want to explain it to a colleague. Use them to help you think through how health equity relates to your work or to start a conversation where you work.

  • After watching them, try to think of a time when you knew, or suspected, that some underlying issue was the real reason someone wasn’t in compliance with regulations. Was it difficult to recognize? How did you react?
  • Which of the factors from Video 2 are mostly likely to affect the people you work with? How could you find out what barriers people are facing behind the scenes?
  • Think about each of the settings where you work. What social determinants or underlying issues might be impacting people’s ability to comply with regulations? How could you work for healthier, more equitable environments in your community?
  • How might your awareness of health equity and the social determinants of health change the ways you interact with clients?

The first step to incorporating health equity into your practice is simply to start thinking about what external factors might be happening behind the scenes – even if you don’t quite know what to do about them.

In the next blog post you will read more about how environmental public health organizations, such as health authorities, health units, or health protection divisions, can contribute to health equity through their programs and policies.

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.