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Shifting Public Health Practice to Advance Health Equity: Recommendations From Experts and Community Leaders

Knight, Erin K. PhD, MPH

Journal of Public Health Management & Practice: March/April 2014 - Volume 20 - Issue 2 - p 188–196
doi: 10.1097/PHH.0b013e31829959fb
Original Articles

Context: While the evidence base regarding the social determinants of health and their relationship to health inequities grows, the field of public health is challenged to translate this knowledge into practice changes that advance health equity.

Objective: Drawing on the knowledge, beliefs, and experiences of public health experts and community leaders working to advance health equity, our objective was to develop and disseminate recommendations for changing public health practice to better address this problem.

Design: We conducted semistructured, qualitative telephone interviews (n = 25) with key informants. Interviews were recorded and transcribed, and data were coded and analyzed using both inductive and deductive methods. Member checks were used to enhance quality.

Setting and Participants: A purposeful sample of key informants was selected from content experts and community leaders involved with the development of the Unnatural Causes public impact campaign. Participants represented state and local health departments, community-based organizations, national research/advocacy organizations, and academic institutions across the country.

Results: Participants distinguished between social determinants of health and their structural precursors in social and political institutions. They believed that the field of public health has an obligation to address health inequities and shifts in practice are needed that focus more attention on societal factors that underlie such inequities. According to participants, specific practice changes are difficult to identify because actions should be community specific and community driven. Recommended approaches that may be adapted to community-based needs and assets include building nontraditional partnerships, engaging in political advocacy, promoting community leadership, collecting better data on social conditions and institutional factors, and enhancing communication for health equity.

Conclusions: Recommended shifts in practice may be facilitated by revisiting our understanding of the 3 core functions of public health—assessment, assurance, and policy development.

Drawing on the knowledge, beliefs, and experiences of public health experts and community leaders working to advance health equity, the objective of this study was to develop and disseminate recommendations for changing public health practice.

Center for Community Research and Service, School of Public Policy and Administration, University of Delaware, Newark.

Correspondence: Erin K. Knight, PhD, MPH, Center for Community Research and Service, School of Public Policy and Administration, University of Delaware, 184 Graham Hall, Newark, DE 19716 (eknight@udel.edu).

Funding from the National Association of County and City Health Officials and California Newsreel supported the transcription of interviews included in this study.

The author thanks the following individuals for their contributions to the design of this study: Larry Adelman, Co-Director of California Newsreel; Richard Hofrichter, PhD, Senior Director for Health Equity at the National Association of County and City Health Officials; Robert Warren, PhD, Professor of Public Policy and Administration at the University of Delaware; and Danilo Yanich, PhD, Associate Professor of Public Policy and Administration at the University of Delaware. She also thanks the public health professionals who participated in this study and offered their valuable insights.

The author declares no conflict of interest.

© 2014 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.