The National Academies recently hosted a rural health equity summit with panels on the role of philanthropy, community organizing, economic prosperity, and issues around health care access. Among the economic development panelists was Brian Lewandowski, an economics professor at CU Boulder and the main author of a rural community resiliency study released last year. This study compared Colorado rural communities on different demographic and economic indicators. As you might expect, factors like industry diversity, strong leadership, and solid infrastructure tend to increase a community’s economic resilience. But just as impactful are forces that we in public health refer to as the social determinants of health: quality affordable housing, educational achievement, social connectedness, and collective efficacy.
This alignment of economic resiliency measures with social determinants could be a useful messaging concept for local health equity champions who might be struggling to engage business interests (or folks who share their ideology). The typical economic justifications for advancing health equity focus on the same factors as primary prevention in general: deferred health care costs for governments, employers, and insurers. But reducing health care costs might not be as strong a motivation for some rural business leaders. Unless you are a large employer, rural business communities may be too far removed from the direct benefits of reduced health care costs and other macroeconomic indicators. But successfully tying health equity to economic resilience at the local level could result in its inclusion as both a desired outcome and a driver of economic development. This focus on economic growth also aligns with the WHO’s Rio Political declaration on SDOH, which includes a resolution asserting the importance of “delivering equitable economic growth through resolute action on social determinants of health across all sectors and at all levels.”
Part of CALPHO’s work in Phase 3 of the Trust’s Health Equity Advocacy Cohort is developing this kind of messaging. Along with our Cohort partners and with assistance from consultants at the Center for Social Inclusion and Seigel Public Affairs, we are exploring health equity communications strategies for all types of audiences. We expect these efforts to be quite fruitful, but just as valuable is input from local public health professionals with frequent experience discussing public health concepts in their communities. We would love to hear about strategies that have been effective for you or ideas you may have, so please email us!