Health Equity for All: Why We Need a Fundamental Shift

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By Martin Bouza

July 9, 2024

Over the past year, I’ve dropped some 40lbs , and let me tell you, I feel fantastic. I’m more agile, springy, and I’ve become very mindful of what I eat, where it comes from, and what’s in it. This focus on food as medicine, combined with regular doctor visits and consistent exercise, is making a real difference in my health, both now and for the future. And I’m sure around the world, many people feel this way, but few are privileged enough to achieve it.

Talking about health equity is all the rage these days, but the idea that everyone should reach their full health potential has been around for a long time. While it’s great that we’re aiming for universal health, it seems that the push for health equity is increasingly driven by financial motives from healthcare systems. Healthy patients are more cost-effective than sick ones who need ongoing care and medication.

As we’ve explored before, healthcare is a complex system with many opposing forces, and it rarely centers on the patient. It can’t be fixed by a single political approach, civil society group, or technology alone. But when these elements work together, they can drive real change, and when they don’t, they act as patches.

Take my food-as-medicine approach as an example. Those in more fortunate circumstances usually have their Social Determinants of Health covered—they can afford good food, regular check-ups, and quality healthcare. But what about those in less favorable situations? They might eat what they can find or afford and might have a distrust of the healthcare system. Health equity, in this case, is about disease prevention, and it’s failing.

A few factors come into play. People in tough economic conditions often don’t have the luxury of choosing the best food—they buy what they can afford, which isn’t always the healthiest. Plus, not all areas have access to specialty shops with nutritious options. Many people also lack the educational resources to make informed food choices. Some countries have implemented labeling systems to warn about unhealthy ingredients, but if people aren’t aware of what these labels mean, they might just ignore them. There’s also the fact that some people have an outright mistrust of the health system that can further complicate their ability to access and benefit from professional orientation and treatment if needed.

Technology can certainly help create more equitable health outcomes. We’re working on projects related to Social Determinants of Health, food as medicine, and various mobility programs. However, tech alone isn’t the solution. Apps can be useful, but they need to be backed by education and consistent efforts. They can gather valuable data and push the system to improve, but they can’t replace the need for systemic change.

Unfortunately, not all governments are tackling this issue head-on. Health systems worldwide are mostly influenced by conflicting interests—hospitals strive for health, but pharmaceutical companies and insurance firms profit from illness. Processed food companies, which often receive subsidies, contribute to widespread health issues, while fresh, healthy food tends to be more expensive. Additionally, mental health care is frequently overlooked despite its growing importance, and this gap needs addressing: systems only provide access to psychiatrists who prescribe medication, but fail to address one of the biggest contributors to mental health issues today: social media.

Politicians, whether they’re in office or running for it, often focus on issues that grab votes—like violence or economic security. Health equity, a long-term concern, usually doesn’t make the cut unless there’s a strong push from the civil society. Even then, it only gains real momentum when massive amounts of people make their voices heard in this sense. But let’s face it, people tend to focus on immediate needs first, so it’s not realistic to expect civil society to lead this charge on its own.

Equity boils down to addressing very unequal situations. I think it all starts with education and a broader understanding that making small changes can lead to significant improvements. Imagine if we learned from an early age that taking care of our bodies can lead to a better quality of life. Or if we embraced some of the holistic practices from other cultures, like healthy eating and mindfulness, so that we might make better choices as a society. These ideas are slowly gaining traction, but they’re often confined to those who already have access to better care. 

The people who are most engaged in these practices are also the ones who actively seek out the right supplements, vitamins, and everything else needed to maintain their health and stave off aging. They understand that time is a precious resource, even a currency, and are already leveraging it to their advantage, which can seem deeply unfair but also understandable in our human bid for life.

As elections approach almost everywhere, let’s push for health equity to become more than just temporary fixes and stimulus packages. It should be a core part of our healthcare strategy. We all deserve to live our healthiest lives, so let’s join forces to build a healthier present and future.