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Early Childhood Is Critical to Health Equity

Year: 2018

This report is the second in a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) series on health equity. An Executive Summary is also available. The series aims to assist those working in public health, health care, and other fields that powerfully shape health—such as education, child care, housing, and community development—to build a world in which everyone can be as healthy as possible.

The first report in the RWJF health equity series, What Is Health Equity? And What Difference Does a Definition Make? defines health equity (below) and takes a deeper look at what it means and the implications for action.

Health equity means that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. This requires removing obstacles to health, such as poverty, discrimination, and their consequences—including powerlessness; lack of access to good jobs with fair pay; quality education and housing; safe environments; and health care. For the purposes of measurement, health equity means reducing and ultimately eliminating disparities in health and its determinants that adversely affect excluded or marginalized groups.

According to this definition, health inequities are produced by inequities in the resources and opportunities available to different groups of people based on their racial/ethnic group; socioeconomic, disability, or LGBTQ status; gender; and other characteristics closely tied to a history of being marginalized or excluded.

This report focuses on the first five years of life. Other periods of life also shape lifelong health. They are, however, beyond the scope of this report.