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It’s dinnertime. You’d like to make a healthy meal for you and your family. Grilled chicken, some greens, and your mom’s famous mashed potatoes. But the only place nearby to get food is a convenience store stocked with instant noodles, chips, sugary drinks, and processed food.
Or maybe you live in a rural community, the closest supermarket is 10 miles away and you don’t own a car. So you stock up on frozen TV dinners rather than fresh foods.
This is something many people face in the U.S. every day.
An area with limited access to healthy foods is called a food desert. Living in a food desert can contribute to the chance of a person not living a long and healthy life.
There are 5 issues the CDC says are social determinants of health in the U.S. This means they are conditions in the places “where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age” that affect a wide range of health and quality-of-life outcomes and risks.
When one or any combination of these issues affect a person, it can lead to what are called health disparities.
These disparities could be based on:
Living in a food desert is just one example of a social determinate of health. Neighborhoods with high crime rates might affect a person’s mental health or their ability to safely go outside for some exercise.
What about those who live in rural parts of the state? This might affect how far a person is from the care they need and whether they can keep up with their regular appointments, screenings, and immunizations.
Experts say that eliminating these health disparities would save the U.S. billions of dollars a year in direct health care costs and over a trillion in indirect costs.
For example, U.S. public health and medical data have helped researchers show that reducing disparities in asthma treatment in Black workers by just 10% would save over $1,600 each year per patient in medical costs and costs associated with missed work.
Health equity is a term that refers to everyone having an equal shot at living their healthiest lives, regardless of their background, education or where they live. When people are affected by health disparities, it creates gaps in health equity.
The U.S. still has a long way to go in closing the gaps that lead to health inequity. The effort requires broad policy and public health collaboration with health care and community partners.
As one of those partners, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma (BCBSOK) focuses on doing our part to close gaps in health equity in the communities we serve.
You can learn more about how BCBSOK is helping local communities in our Corporate Social Responsibility report.
Have you faced challenges in areas of your life and environment that have made it difficult to take care of your health?
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