Health Disparities as a Challenge for Healthy People 2020

Table of Contents

Introduction

Health disparity is a priority challenge for the 21st-century world. It implies uneven access to healthcare services among different populations. One can observe this phenomenon from a cross-national perspective, depending on the level of economic development, as well as within a particular state among specific population groups. In other words, it is a universal problem, affecting people from all over the world, both in low- and high-income countries. Thus, overcoming these disparities and achieving health equity is the global aim for researchers, physicians, administrators, and other stakeholders. Therefore, the development of new health-related programs and policies is highly relevant.

Main text

First of all, it is necessary to point out that health disparity is one of the primary tasks of the Healthy People 2020 initiative. This project, launched in 2010, identifies the strategic healthcare issues and suggests feasible ways to deal with them (“Healthy People 2020,” 2020). In particular, Healthy People 2020 primarily focuses on the problem of obesity in children and adolescents. Moreover, the project revealed disparities related to obesity in this target group by parameters as educational level and sex (“Healthy People 2020,” 2020). Indeed, this health issue needs careful consideration, since it determines the health status, quality of life, and occupational performance of adults in the nearest future. To this end, the Healthy People 2020 initiative monitors such tendencies as physical activity and nutrition among the population under study (“Healthy People 2020,” 2020). In other words, the focus on this issue is an immediate contribution to the well-being of the next generations. Therefore, it is essential to understand the causes of this phenomenon.

There have been numerous attempts among scientists to reveal the reasons for health inequality. For instance, Baciu et al. (2017) identify the root causes of health disparity and divide them into two major clusters. The first group embraces “race, gender, sexual orientation, gender expression, and other dimensions of individual and group identity” (Baciu et al., 2017, p. 99). The second cluster of root causes represents a focus on more fundamental issues, such as “unequal allocation of power and resources – including goods, services, and societal attention” (Baciu et al., 2017, p. 99). The second cluster of root causes results in unequal socio-economic living conditions among populations. The scholars conclude that the problem of health disparity stems from the interplay of social determinants.

It is reasonable to consider how these two groups of factors affect the young population’s susceptibility to obesity. For instance, Baciu et al. (2017) found that obesity “affects racial and ethnic minorities disproportionately,” especially among “Hispanic children and adolescents” (p. 60). The scholars also revealed health disparities in terms of obesity among lesbians (Baciu et al., 2017). As one can observe, this is the first cluster of root causes (race and sexual orientation), which induces obesity in the young population. The second cluster of root causes of obesity in children is no less critical. In particular, there is “a positive correlation between educational attainment and obesity” (Baciu et al., 2017, p. 120). Besides, more educated parents are less likely to have children with health issues (Baciu et al., 2017). In other words, obesity in children and adolescents may stem from different root causes. However, its effect upon health status and quality of life is equally detrimental and debilitating for both clusters of factors.

Hence, health disparity is deeply rooted in the historical, axiological, and ethical background of society. As one can observe, the causes of health disparities are as numerous as the dimensions of any identity of a group of people. Therefore, it is necessary to develop a public health communication strategy to reduce disparity in terms of obesity and promote health among populations. For this purpose, one should focus on the ways to shape psychological readiness and understanding the importance of healthy behaviors since early childhood. The proposed public health communication strategy focuses on eliminating health disparity through fostering a healthy lifestyle in the young population using a community-based approach. Hence, the project will mitigate health disparities by addressing the development of appropriate health behaviors among schoolchildren. The key objectives of the project are to increase public awareness, promote active lifestyles and healthy eating, and achieve improved health outcomes in the target groups. The proposal will focus on representatives of specific socio-economic settings depending on their place of residence and education. The proposed communication strategy requires careful planning. Therefore, a phased approach is necessary. The proposal will comprise five phases: data collection, needs assessment, targeted healthcare campaign to engage stakeholders, pilot projects within the communities, and evaluation. First of all, it is relevant to focus on the contextual aspect of the issue under consideration. Thus, Phase 1 will involve data collection. The project will launch a series of surveys among the population groups within a specific area, including children, parents, teachers, and others. The polls will aim at targeting the priority issues for this area, including eating behaviors, bad habits, lifestyle patterns, access to health services, and the like. Moreover, the project will collect the data from local hospitals and polyclinics, such as the number of calls and appointments, results of periodic health examinations, and general health status of the young population in the community.

Phase 2 will represent a qualitative and quantitative study of the obtained results. It will also provide the needs assessment. In such a manner, the project will identify the factors influencing health behaviors in a specific area. Phase 3 will target local public health agencies and other specialists to promote healthy lifestyles in the young population. In other words, it is vital to engage as many stakeholders as possible. Indeed, one should not underscore the role of various community-level settings, including “schools, local social agencies, neighborhood associations, community faith organizations, and government offices – in creating healthy communities” (Suarez-Balcazar et al., 2018, p. 3). In such a manner, a maximum outcome will rely on the joined efforts of different professionals from a particular community.

Phase 4 will deploy pilot projects in public schools and contextual intervention through educational campaigns and teaching activities for the youth. It is also equally essential to reduce information inequality in underserved and less privileged communities. Indeed, it is the lack of information that often impairs health behaviors among populations. Hence, for children, school meetings, extracurricular activities, and problem-oriented school clubs will be organized. Teachers will be suggested group projects on the issue under consideration, as well as the resources for ongoing professional development, including massive open online courses and webinars on healthy behaviors. Administrators and managers will engage in subject-related training and seminars.

Furthermore, the strategy will rely on multiple channels of communication. For instance, the proposal will use general dissemination means, such as public service announcements, mass media resources, including radio, TV, and Internet, as well as outdoor advertising. Moreover, the project will implement a targeted communication approach for each population. Indeed, “targeted communication strategy aims to influence attitudes and behavior” of each stakeholder (Bourne, 2016, p. 431). Consequently, each group will be actively engaged in the process. More importantly, each participant requires recognition of his or her unique characteristics, preferences, and needs. Therefore, taking into consideration a wide range of generational, ethnic, professional, and gender aspects of each target group is crucial (Bourne, 2016). Hence, the proposal will rely on different means of communication, including e-mail, instant messaging, online conferences, and personal contact, group, and one-on-one meetings, as well as individual, self-paced and collaborative modes. The strategy will identify the preferred ways and methods of communication in the course of the project using surveys and questionnaires.

Finally, a feasible evaluation plan for the communication strategy is essential. Phase 5 will provide the evaluation framework of the project. It will embrace several steps. First of all, qualitative interviews with target groups will be necessary to find the overall satisfaction of the participants. Next, post-project surveys will identify the outcomes of the strategy and compare them to the results of the initial assessments. The next step will be the comparison of updated information from local hospitals and polyclinics with the pre-project data. Eventually, each activity and communication channel will be evaluated and rated using a specific list of questions and a scale of effectiveness. These findings will form a reliable foundation for future projects.

Conclusion

The lessons learned from this proposal can provide a strong basis for follow-up studies. Health disparity is one of the most relevant issues in 21st-century healthcare. It is also a very complicated phenomenon, stemming from the long-standing background of society. Therefore, this problem requires well-coordinated efforts of specialists from different areas of expertise. It is also necessary to foster appropriate health behaviors within populations. Moreover, a community-based approach and targeted communication strategy are of paramount importance, as active engagement of all stakeholders is a decisive factor for the project’s sustainability. Thus, health-related initiatives, including Healthy People 2020, require further expansion and elaboration in terms of different target groups and broader objectives to eliminate health disparity once and for all.

References

Baciu, A., Negussie, Y., Geller, A., & Weinstein, J.N. (Eds.). (2017). Communities in action: Pathways to health equity. National Academies Press.

Bourne, L. (2016). Targeted communication: The key to effective stakeholder engagement. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 226, 431–438.

Healthy People 2020. (2020). About Healthy People. Web.

Suarez-Balcazara, Y., Mirzaa, M. P., & Garcia-Ramirezb, M. (2018). Health disparities: Understanding and promoting healthy communities. Journal of Prevention & Intervention in the Community, 46(1), 1–6.

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