Good health is never guaranteed. In fact, whether a person is likely to experiences negative health outcomes is often determined before a person is even born.
Health inequities among geographic areas and population groups have persisted across the United States for decades. The causes are vast and complex, and often result from a family’s exposures and experiences over multiple generations.
“Our nation’s health disparities are directly linked to longitudinal and multigenerational exposure to social, economic and environmental factors. Some of these factors have positive impacts, while others negatively influence healthy development and well-being,” says Jennifer DeVoe, M.D., D.Phil., professor and chair of family medicine in the Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine.
As a practicing family physician, DeVoe is well aware of the negative health impacts of toxic stress and other adverse experiences, and she understands that “achieving health equity means more than simply providing universal access to basic health care services.”
According to DeVoe, “eliminating many of the health inequities that have persisted in our country for generations will require addressing their root causes with evidence-based policy, practice and systems changes.”
A new report published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, explains the importance of acting on opportunities for such interventions during childhood.
“We know that a number of critical biological systems develop during the prenatal and early childhood timeframes,” explains DeVoe, who chaired the NASCEM committee who produced the report. “Neurobiological development is very responsive to environmental influences, making it an ideal time to redirect negative health impacts -- such as unstable housing, violence or food insecurity -- toward a more positive trajectory.”
To help advance health equity, the report, “Vibrant and Healthy Kids: Aligning Science, Practice, and Policy to Advance Health Equity,” also offers multiple recommendations to support families and caregivers, create stable living conditions and maximize health promotion.
Key recommendations include:
- Implementing paid parental leave
- Expanding home visiting programs
- Improving economic security by increasing basic needs resources
- Increasing the supply of high-quality affordable housing
- Supporting and enforcing efforts to prevent and mitigate the impact of environmental toxicants
- Improving the quality and affordability of early care and education
“This report acts as a roadmap for our society to take action to help children become healthier adults,” says DeVoe. “While some states, including Oregon, have recognized the health impact of all policies and have already implemented some of this committee’s recommendations aimed at improving health for all children, some recommendations will require longer timelines, multi-sector collaborations, and in-depth strategies. Regardless, we must stay on a path to address the root causes of health inequities and eliminate health disparities.”
Vibrant and Healthy Kids: Aligning Science, Practice, and Policy to Advance Health Equity was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Visit the National Academy of Science, Engineering and Medicine website for more details, full report.