If differences in health outcomes are to be eliminated, the causes of disparities must also be eliminated. Public policy reform is vital if we are going to eliminate the causes of health disparities.
Federal, state and local laws all impact conditions that influence the health status of people. Therefore, it is necessary to develop policies at all three levels of government to reduce negative impacts on a community’s overall health.
Public policy can be seen as one influence on community health that can impact all other related factors. Public policy affects housing, education, income, access to food, the availability and quality of health care, and the environment in which we live; for example:
- Zoning ordinances determine what businesses can be located near residential areas; they also can influence modes of transportation. For instance, in planning for mass transit lines (subway, light rail and bus routes), accessibility to businesses and residential areas is a key consideration.
- Public housing standards ensure that safety and public health issues (lead paint exposure) are addressed.
- The minimum wage law guarantees that people can earn an adequate salary for the work that they perform.
- Maryland’s Clean Indoor Air Act ensures that employees are not unduly exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke in their places of work.
Changes in laws can improve community health in two ways:
- By reducing or eliminating unhealthy conditions, or
- By promoting activities that support individual and community health efforts to improve the health of a large number of people.
Community involvement in creating public policy is vital. There are many ways that people can get involved:
Speak with City Council members, as well as state and federal elected officials; this is crucial for health policy legislation to succeed.
Join a Citizen Advocacy Group that focuses on policy changes to improve health.
Vote for candidates who make community health and health care a priority.