Health inequalities are largely driven by the social determinants of health including poverty, education, employment, housing, access to health services and social inclusion.
In 2022, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities introduced a new health target. This strategy included a commitment to reducing the Healthy Life Expectancy gap by 2023, and raising the Healthy Life Expectancy by 5 years by 2035.
WHAT ARE HEALTH TARGETS?
Health targets are specific, measurable objectives or goals set within healthcare and wider systems to improve health outcomes or patient care, typically aiming to address key health challenges and assess the effectiveness of long-term and short-term policy interventions.
WHO/WHERE TO TARGET?
A multi-faceted life course approach is needed in order to tackle health inequalities. This involves having multiple concurrent targets that address the social determinants of health (e.g. targets for child health will take place alongside targets for adult health, targets for specific population groups etc.) Geographical data is the most effective way to monitor health improvements. For this reason, health targets should be set at the lowest geographical level possible.
WHAT TO TARGET?
Targets should be set against six indicators:
– Life Expectancy (LE)
– Healthy Life Expectancy (HLE)
– Infant Mortality Rate (IMR)- Overweight and obesity
– Anxiety and depression
– Suicide rates.
These indicators have been chosen because they provide comparable data across the UK; are updated annually; cover mental and physical health; include measures for adults and children; collectively measure mortality and morbidity; can be analysed by some indicator of social inequality.
Measuring reductions in health inequalities requires an extensive period of time. For this reason, interim indicators are needed in order to track progress on a more frequent basis. Interim indicators should include:
– Household relative poverty rates;
– Employment rates;
– Relative child poverty rates;
– Educational attainment rates (5+ GCSE grades A*-C);
– Meeting recommended physical activity rates;
– Consuming five or more fruits and vegetables per day.
These metrics are comparable across the UK; are updated regularly; are available by Indices of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) and are strongly associated with key health outcomes.