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Dealing With Inequities Called Key to Improving Kentuckians' Health

Dr. Gail Christopher, a  national expert in holistic health and diversity, told community and health leaders in Kentucky that if they work more on improving inequities the state's health will improve. (Shannon Wells)
Dr. Gail Christopher, a national expert in holistic health and diversity, told community and health leaders in Kentucky that if they work more on improving inequities the state's health will improve. (Shannon Wells)
September 20, 2016

LEXINGTON, Ky. - A national expert in holistic health and diversity told community and health leaders in Kentucky yesterday that if they work more on improving inequities, including income and access to care, the health of the state's population will improve.

The message came from Dr. Gail Christopher, the vice president for program strategy at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Dr. Gail Christopher was the keynote speaker at the annual 2016 Howard L. Bost Memorial Health Policy Forum in Lexington, which this year, focused on health as an economic driver.

"It's not health care or social determinates, it is really creating healthy environments in which people can live," she said.

Dr. Christopher acknowledges that food choices are part of being healthy. So is access to quality health care, transportation, and housing, but she said the unifying factor is exposure to adversity and to stress.

Christopher said policymakers need to, in her words, "put people first, for real, not just rhetoric."

"I think every public official, every policy wonk, should be saying, 'If I'm going to deal with health, I've got to deal with income and assets and the capacity to live well, well enough not to be in a state of chronic stress that's associated with fear,'" she said.

She links many of Kentucky's health problems: heart disease, diabetes, and obesity to name a few, to the racial, ethnic and income inequities that exist.

"You're really looking at the symptoms of a social structure that are inequitable and unfair in terms of a distribution of resources, or even access to resources and opportunity," she explained.

That's why Christopher said the conversation about improving Kentucky's health has to focus on so much more than just health care.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY