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Aletta Jacobs School of Public Health
Together for more healthy years
Aletta Jacobs School of Public Health

Summer school: different perspectives for health equity

25 April 2024

The Aletta Jacobs School of Public Health is organizing a summer school on health equity from July 1 to 5. Growing older leads to more health problems, that's natural, but even within the same age groups, health is not equal. According to Marije Bosch and Erik Buskens, the coordinators of the summer school, that's a big problem. ''We need to create an environment where people are empowered to engage in healthy behaviors, thus preventing unwanted and unfair inequality.''

Health inequality

Suppose you have a neighborhood with a primarily elderly population and a neighborhood with primarily families with children; life expectancy between those neighborhoods will differ considerably. More people will die in the neighborhood with more elderly; that goes without saying, according to Erik Buskens. He is a professor of Health Technology Assessment at the Aletta Jacobs School of Public Health and coordinates the summer school. "That is unequal, but it is not necessarily inequality. But if there are two neighborhoods with primarily families with children, and more children die in one of the neighborhoods compared to the other. Then we are talking about inequality," Buskens said.

Marije Bosch, education coordinator at the Aletta Jacobs School of Public Health and co-organizer of the summer school, gives a clear example of inequality using an example about the London Underground. Around Covent Garden underground station, in the heart of London, life expectancy is 87 years. Just four stops later, around the Holloway Road tube station, life expectancy has dropped to 78 years. A staggering 9-year difference in life expectancy after a mere 10-minute subway ride.

"People sometimes tend to think that health is primarily influenced by our individual choices or if we are disciplined enough to make certain healthy choices, but it doesn't work that way," Bosch explains. She elaborates that our health is influenced by many different factors: income, education and the quality of your home all play a role. Someone who lives in a drafty house with mold on the walls and no certainty of whether there will be enough money in their bank account next week to pay for food, is dealing with a very different situation than someone who lives in a newly constructed house with plenty of savings. According to Bosch, we need to do something about that. "Together, we need to create an environment where people are empowered to engage in healthy behaviors."

Both coordinators emphasize that health inequality is an underexposed issue and so they are looking forward to the summer school. "This is an important story," Buskens says. "When I started as a doctor, I was not aware of this inequality; I gradually discovered it. That's why I think it's important to help young people who have an ambition for this and recognize this issue as relevant get started. This summer school is perfect for that."

Different Perspectives

According to Bosch and Buskens, it is very important to look at health from different angles. "I can't think of any discipline out of which you can't contribute to this problem," Buskens says. "If you say, ''I'm a doctor and I know what should be done,'' you're guaranteed to miss the mark. It's not a one-dimensional problem." Bosch agrees. "If you look at it from one point of view, you only see part of the problem. You are still missing a lot of other aspects."

Bosch says they often see this happen. This sometimes leads to well-intentioned interventions only ending up with the group that needs them the least. People who are already in a good situation benefit, while for example, people who really need the intervention do not earn enough to use it. You even run the risk of widening the health gap in that case, Bosch argues.

Anyone who is interested in looking at a complex public health issue from different angles and wants to work on it is welcome to attend the summer school. These can be students from the second year onwards, but also professionals who have been involved with policy for some time. In addition, internationals are also welcome. According to Bosch, that variety is exactly what makes the summer school so much fun. "Everyone has different perspectives and cultures, so everyone can learn a lot from each other."

The summer school

During the summer school, participants spend five days working on a concrete health issue from a neighborhood in Groningen about the obesogenic environment. Each day, interactive lectures in the morning introduce a new perspective to the participants; in the afternoon, participants reflect on what that new perspective means for the issue. During the summer school, participants learn to look at the issue from a psychological, humanities, spatial science, and legal perspective.

The summer school is not just theoretical; participants will also engage in a number of hands-on activities. "We also want participants to experience it," Bosch says. For example, a city walk is part of the programme. "That's a lot of fun," Bosch explains enthusiastically. "It's a walk where you get explanations at different places about their significance for public health."

The summer school programme and registration form can be found below.

Last modified:25 April 2024 1.54 p.m.
View this page in: Nederlands

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