Equity in healthcare is a term that describes the health disparity between groups of people caused by social, economic, demographic or geographic factors. Health equity, or lack thereof, brings attention to various circumstances that result in poor health outcomes. Health equity concerns investigating whether socially disadvantaged groups defined by race, ethnicity, nationality, language, income and/or age are adversely affected by avoidable health differences.

One of the greatest problems affecting the aforementioned groups is obesity. In the UK, NHS England told the Telegraph in 2016 that “around £16 billion a year is spent on the direct medical costs of diabetes and conditions related to being overweight or obese.” But is obesity an affliction that is caused by a lack of health equity (health inequality) or is it ubiquitous in all groups in the UK? And what might be a potential solution to this growing problem?  

The UK government identified health inequalities as being an area in need of attention in the 2012 Health and Social Care Act. Within the act, Public Health England (PHE) had, and continues to have, “a statutory duty… to have due regard to the need to reduce health inequalities,” although, the act did not explicitly mention obesity as an affliction caused by health inequality. However, following on from the 2012 act, PHE published a report in July 2017, outlining various social circumstances that are directly related to health inequality. The report compared weight between ethnic groups and found figures that appear to confirm health equity is still far from a reality in the UK: “At ages 10-11, almost all BME [black and minority ethnic] groups had significantly high proportions of children with excess weight compared with England as a whole… There has been little change in inequality by ethnic group since 2013/14”; this trend also continued in the second age group tested (4-5-year-olds).

What solutions can be implemented to achieve health equity? 

The 2012 act mentioned throughout that the UK government must “reduce inequalities between persons with respect to their ability to access those [public] services,” however, obesity is not necessarily a condition that requires treatment thus nullifying the proposed solution of increasing ability of access public services. If access to public health services is not the answer, what is?

A workshop, and subsequent paper, from The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies in 2013 titled “Creating equal opportunities for a healthy weight” (paywall) approached obesity in the United States of America from a preventative perspective. The workshop dedicated time to discussing preventative methods for obesity in relation to the “food and beverage environments of ethnic minority and low-income communities.” Unsurprisingly, lack of choice and lack of information regarding the nutritional value of foods and beverages was an area ripe for improvement; a combination of eliminating high sugar content foods and drinks was suggested alongside media campaigns that inform children and parents of the risks associated with such products. The result? “Incentives [to provide healthier products] for food and beverage outlets in Philadelphia has contributed to a recent decline in obesity among the city’s children,” which stresses the importance of choice if a healthy food and beverage environment is to be created and maintained. 

What do you think? Can a similar campaign transfer over to the UK, or does the UK government need to introduce a completely different strategy to combat health inequality and obesity?  

Interested in learning more about health equity? Our HND in Health and Social Care (Management) might be the ideal first step on your path to professional success. Contact a UKCBC course advisor today to find out more information, or take a look at our Health and Social Care (Management) course page for a detailed outline of the topics covered in the qualification. Alternatively, you can request a callback or book an appointment with one of our course advisors.

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