Why do Organizations Focus on Health Equity in their Childhood Obesity Policy Work?

Lainie Rutkow*, Jessica C. Jones-Smith, Hannah J. Walters, Marguerite O’Hara and Sara N. Bleich

Why do Organizations Focus on Health Equity in their Childhood Obesity Policy Work?

Obesity affects nearly one in five US children, increasing their likelihood of developing chronic
diseases. The Institute of Medicine (IOM), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and academic researchers have recognized that socio-economic, racial, and ethnic disparities exist relative to childhood obesity.6-11 To address this, advocates and policy-makers should consider health equity and the differential impacts that a childhood obesity policy may have.

Equity (also known as human equity) is the absence of avoidable or preventable differences between groups with varying levels of social advantage/disadvantage (i.e., wealth, power, prestige).12 Health equity falls under this broader umbrella and refers to the absence of systematic differences in social conditions or other modifiable determinants of health between more and less advantaged social groups. Despite the importance of promoting equity, and health equity in particular, many policies that address childhood obesity fail to explicitly consider health equity.

In fact, Bleich et al14 recently found that from 2012-2013, among state level bills related to childhood obesity, only one-third focused on health equity. For example, a community’s policy to improve walkability may enhance parks and other walking spaces situated in higher but not lower income neighborhoods.

In light of this, it is important to understand what drives organizations to focus on health equity when working in the area of childhood obesity. By learning why some groups prioritize health equity and others do not, we can gain insights about how to incentivize the inclusion of health equity concerns in the policy-making process.

Public Health Open J. 2016; 1(3): 57- 60. doi: 10.17140/PHOJ-1-111