Today, President Obama issued “our generation’s task” – to make the values our forefathers fought to uphold, real. To make equality real. On the day our nation remembers Martin Luther King Jr. and his breathtaking view of a new America, we would be remiss to ignore the similarities between the American future Obama espoused and the American Dream of our beloved visionary Dr. King. At a time in need of national healing, both men stood on the Washington Mall and called our nation’s attention to one presiding creed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
Equal. What does that mean today? (and why does it matter?)
As a pediatrician invested in the young lives who will lead the future of our nation, equality means health. Let me explain.
In medicine, we understand that health is related to a number of factors that affect a person’s life, including the sociocultural environment in which a person lives, works, and plays. The CDC refers to the pieces that make up a sociocultural environment as “social determinants of health.” That means, where you live, work, and play matters. And that’s not all. Where your parents and parent’s parents lived, worked, and played matters too. It turns out, one can predict a number of medical problems a given population is at increased risk to have based on that population’s access to housing, education, healthy food, safe spaces for play, proximity to medical services, and a host of other local factors – factors that may be unique to some communities but are not entirely out of our control, as individuals or as a society. President Obama’s Accountable Care Act was an important start to creating equity in medical service provisions in the United States, but there is so much more to be done. It is clear that for a number of preventable illnesses (obesity, type II diabetes, and in some cases asthma), safe housing heals and healthy food prevents disease. The future health of our nation relies on us as individuals, collectively demanding that we as a society invest in comprehensive strategies to address the inequity that exists in our communities.
The point is, our forefathers had it right. As President Obama so aptly stated, “fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges.” The challenge in medicine today is to foster and sustain partnerships to collectively address the issues of inequity that exist in our communities.
From the ballot box to your neighborhood, what are you doing to make America a more equal place?
Here’s to a future that shines bright for all of us!