Health equity

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What is health equity?
How can we reduce health inequities?
Health Nexus resources
Video clips
Other resources

What is health equity?

Some population groups are healthier than others, not by personal choice, but because of social, economic and environmental circumstances, over the course of their livesi. Education, unemployment, gender, poverty and sexual orientation are just a few examples of these circumstances, called the social determinants of healthii.

When differences in health are because of reasons that are systemic, patterned, unfair, unjust and actionable, those differences are called health inequitiesiii.

How can we reduce health inequities?

Promoting health equity requires improving the living conditions that keep us healthy, and the social, economic, and health systems that support us when we get sick. Furthermore, tackling the inequitable distribution of power, money and resources is essential for improving health equityiv.

When planning services, programs, and policies it’s important to consider all three aspects of the Equity Triangle:  access to services, equality of opportunity for the social determinants of health, and equality of health impacts and outcomesv. It can be difficult to predict how any given program will affect health equity. Health Nexus is a Champion Organization for the Health Equity Impact Assessment (HEIA) toolvi, developed by the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care as a way for organizations to identify how their programs, services and policies could positively impact health inequities.

Health Nexus Resources

Health equity and racialized groups: a literature review

Increasing Organizational Capacity for Health Equity Work: A Literature Review for Health Nexus
Health Nexus | 2017

Provides evidence from the literature on how to embed health equity into organizational capacity. The discussion section provides health promoters and health promotion organizations with evidence to serve as a foundation for tangible health equity activities.

CAWI Stories: Sharing of Voices and Decisions

CAWI Stories: Sharing of Voices and Decisions
CLiP project | 2017

At a story-gathering session, community partners and staff members of the City for All Women Initiative (CAWI) discussed: “What is different about partnership (working with others) that centers the experiences (voices) and decision-making of equity-seeking (justice/fairness) groups?” The story-sharing and paper quilting which followed highlighted important insights about the qualities and actions central to CAWI’s collaborative leadership approach.

CAWI Quilt

CAWI: What Actions Support Sharing of Voice and Decisions? (Quilt)
CLiP project | 2017

Seeing the Unseen: Intro to HEIA

Seeing the Unseen: An introduction to Health Equity Impact Assessment
Health Nexus for HC Link | 2014

Provides an overview of key concepts and definitions in Health Equity Impact Assessment (HEIA) and will help readers usethe HEIA tool to address health inequities in their work with marginalized populations. See the videos section of this page for a webinar recording on this topic.

Health equity and racialized groups: a literature review

Health Equity and Racialized Groups: A Literature Review
Health Nexus and Health Equity Council | 2011

Presents a framework for understanding and action on racialized health disparities.

Addressing health inequities for racialized communities: a resource guide

Addressing Health Inequalities for Racialized Communities: A Resource Guide 
Health Nexus and Health Equity Council | 2011

Supports those who are engaged in health promotion to reduce racialized health inequities

Primer to Action: Social Determinants of Health.
Health Nexus and Ontario Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance | 2008

Describes how the Social Determinants of Health impact chronic disease.

Are Widening Income Inequalities Making Canada Less Healthy? Executive Summary and Full Report 
Health Determinants Partnership | 2002

Explains why Canadians cannot afford to be complacent about the growing income gap in our society.

Video clips

Hanifa Kassam: Inclusion and equity in strategic planning (7 min)
CLiP project | 2016

Suzanne Doerge: Creating inclusive cities for all women (6.5 min)
CLiP project | 2016

Khalida Bello: Intentional inclusion and cultural humility (6.5 min)
CLiP project | 2016

Maureen Owino: From service users to change agents (19 min)
CLiP project | 2016

Dr. Roberta Timothy: Historical and contemporary context of intersectionality in Canada (13 min)
CLiP project | 2016

Dr. Roberta Timothy: Webinar - Literature review on intersectionality, anti-oppression and collaborative leadership in practice (62 min)
CLiP project | 2016

Download the webinar slides

Let’s start a conversation about health…and not talk about health care at all
Sudbury & District Health Unit | 2011

Unnatural Causes – is inequality making us sick?
USA | 2008

This documentary series which explores racial and socioeconomic inequalities in health. Includes short video clips on specific health equity topics.

Series trailer:

Other resources

Let's talk... health equity

Let's talk… Health equity series
National Collaborating Centre for Determinants of Health

Designed to promote discussion and understanding of key concepts in health equity and spark dialogue, reflection, and action to address the social determinants of health. The series is available in English and French.

Let’s Talk: Health equity | 2013
Let’s Talk: Universal and targeted approaches to health equity | 2013
Let’s Talk: Public health roles for improving health equity | 2013
Let’s Talk: Populations and the power of language | 2014
Let’s Talk: Moving upstream | 2014
Let’s Talk: Advocacy and health equity | 2015
Let’s talk: Racism and health equity | 2017

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion tool

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Organizational Self-Assessment Tool
Diversity & Inclusion Charter of Peel | 2016

Designed to assist all types of organizations in assessing their diversity, equity, and inclusion work. It can be used as a discussion starter in order to enhance understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as to celebrate successes, identify areas for improvement and set a roadmap for action.

Policy Approaches to Reducing Health Inequalities

Policy Approaches to Reducing Health Inequalities
National Collaborating Centre for Healthy Public Policy | 2016

A briefing note intended to help distinguish between broad approaches to reducing health inequalities. It clarifies how different policy approaches are grounded theoretically and how they might produce different effects in efforts to reduce health inequalities.

No Barriers Health Equity for All

No Barriers Health Equity for All: Toolkit & practical guide
Windsor-Essex County Health Unit | 2015

Developed to assist decision-makers, program planners, service providers, and front-line staff in their work to improve the health and wellness of individuals and communities. Content covers concepts of health equity and the social determinants of health as well as practical tools, resources, and methods to support translating knowledge into evidence-informed action.


City for All Women Initiative - Equity and Inclusion Tools

The City for All Women Initiative's website offers a number of resources in English and French to support work in equity and inclusion:

Equity and Inclusion Lens Handbook | 2015
Advancing Equity and Inclusion: A Guide for Municipalities | 2015
Equity and Inclusion Lens Community Handbook | 2016
Snapshot profiles with information, resources, and videos about 12 equity-seeking groups

Green maple leaf

The State of Health Equity in Ontario
Dennis Raphael | 2014

10 Promising Practices

10 Promising Practices Fact Sheets
Sudbury & District Health Unit | 2012

Fact sheets designed to help public health practitioners and community partners apply promising practices to reduce social inequities in health. A common format identifies essential components, key issues, and tools and resources for each promising practice.

Social Determinants of Health: The Canadian Facts

Social Determinants of Health: The Canadian facts
Juha Mikkonen & Dennis Raphael | 2010

This book, available for download in English and French, offers extensive data on the inequitable distribution of the social determinants of health in Canada. The authors describe the impact of this inequity and offer recommendations to improve population health through action on an oft-cited list of 14 social determinants.


Health Equity: Programs, Projects and Practice
OHPE Feature Article | 2008

First Steps to Equity

First Steps to Equity. Ideas and Strategies for Health Equity in Ontario 2008-2010
Dianne Patychuk and Daniela Seskar-Hencic | 2008


What is the Population Approach?
Public Health Agency of Canada 

Equality Trust

The Equality Trust

Levelling up (Part 1)

Levelling Up (Part 1) a Discussion Paper on Concepts and Principles for Tackling Social Inequities in Health
Whitehead and Dahlgren, World Health Organization | 2006

Proposes 10 principles for policy action to advance health equity and clarifies key concepts like “social gradient” and “levelling up.”

WHO logo

Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion
First International Conference on Health Promotion | 1986




i  Government of Canada. Chief public health officer’s report on the state of public health in Canada: Addressing health inequalities. 2008.
ii  Raphael, D.  About Canada: Health and Illness. Black Point, NS: Fernwoood Publishing. 2010
iii  World Health Organization. Health Impact Assessment: Glossary of terms used, 2016. Available at
iv  Commission on Social Determinants of Health. Closing the gap in a generation: Health equity through action on the social determinants of health. Final Report of the Commission on Social Determinants of Health. Geneva, World Health Organization; 2008
v  VicHealth. Please, Places, processes: Reducing health inequalities through balanced health promotion approaches. 2008
vi  Ministry of Health and Long Term Care. Health Equity Impact Assessment. 2012