Center on Society and Health Research Epidemiologist Latoya Hill, MPH gave a panel presentation at the Virginia Public Health Association (VAPHA) Conference last Friday alongside Soyna Kibler, MPH, MS, Program Manager for Healthy and Equitable Communities at the Institute for Public Health Innovation (IPHI), and Putnam Ivey, Thomas Jefferson Health District’s Healthy Communities Coordinator. VAPHA Conference attendees included public health graduate students and faculty from across Virginia as well as Commonwealth public health practitioners. The annual conference also featured presentations and speeches from VAPHA President Mike Royster, MD and APHA President Tom Quade, MA, MPH, among others. Ms. Hill kicked off the “Best Practices for Promoting Health Equity Panel” by focusing on how public health practitioners promote health equity using data as a communication tool.
Ms. Hill highlighted the importance of connecting the dots between factors outside of healthcare–such as education, income, housing, and others–and health outcomes. These social and environmental factors are referred to in public health as the “social determinants of health.” As Ms. Hill explained, health disparities exist in large part due to the unequal distribution of these social determinants of health. This unequal distribution can be made more equitable, and lead to more equitable health outcomes, through appropriate interventions and changes in policies.
While students of public health may understand the link between these social-environmental factors and health outcomes, the relationship is not always clear to others. Ms. Hill explains, “Despite the overwhelming existing evidence that the economic and social conditions in which we are born, live, and work can actually affect our health, the challenges of talking about health equity remain. For example, while the connection between diet and obesity is intuitive, the connection between unsafe neighborhood conditions and obesity may not be as straightforward and can require more context and data to help connect the dots between social determinants and health equity.”
Ms. Hill urged audience members to tackle research that involves stakeholders, community members, and policymakers’ input, and to communicate this user-oriented research strategically in order to enable lasting, positive change. She highlighted Center tools, such as the life expectancy maps and interactive online platforms to demonstrate how impactful public health data can be when presented in easily understood, comprehensible formats. Ms. Hill also emphasized the importance of gathering qualitative data, in addition to quantitative data, to draw attention to the lived experiences of individuals most affected by poverty, low educational attainment, poor housing, and other societal distresses.
“With the long list of social determinants of health and various methods and frameworks, there are endless amounts of data at your fingertips,” Hill explains. “Being thoughtful about what data we present and how we present it is essential in communicating health equity as it often requires telling the story of social determinants of health and health inequalities to a multi-sector audience.”
IPHI’s Sonya Kibler followed Ms. Hill with a discussion on Health in All Policies (HiAP)–an approach to health equity encouraging collaborators from across sectors to consider the health implications of sector policies and projects, and Putnam Ivey of the Thomas Jefferson Health District rounded out the panel with a presentation on community health assessments, featuring Planning District 10’s findings from cross sector partnerships through their community health assessments.
Together, the three panelists highlighted the key role that public health plays in bringing all sectors to the table to improve the wellbeing and health of all citizens. By developing cross sector collaborations, targeted communication strategies, and user-oriented research, public health workers can engage key stakeholders, decision makers, and community members to plan for sustainable, equitable improvements in their communities and beyond.
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