, Volume 90, Issue 1 Supplement, pp 92-104
Date: 13 Sep 2012

Equity and the Social Determinants of Health in European Cities


Equity in health has been the underlying value of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Health for All policy for 30 years. This article examines how cities have translated this principle into action. Using information designed to help evaluate phase IV (2003–2008) of the WHO European Healthy Cities Network (WHO-EHCN) plus documentation from city programs and websites, an attempt is made to assess how far the concept of equity in health is understood, the political will to tackle the issue, and types of action taken. Results show that although cities continue to focus considerable support on vulnerable groups, rather than the full social gradient, most are now making the necessary shift towards more upstream policies to tackle determinants of health such as poverty, unemployment, education, housing, and the environment, without neglecting access to care. Although local level data reflecting inequalities in health is improving, there is still a long way to go in some cities. The Healthy Cities Project is becoming an integral part of structures for long-term planning and intersectoral action for health in cities, and Health Impact Assessment is gradually being developed. Participation in the WHO-EHCN appears to allow new members to leap-frog ahead established cities. However, this evaluation also exposes barriers to effective local policies and processes to reduce health inequalities. Armed with locally generated evidence of critical success factors, the WHO-EHCN has embarked on a more rigorous and determined effort to achieve the prerequisites for equity in health. More attention will be given to evaluating the effectiveness of action taken and to dealing not only with the most vulnerable but a greater part of the gradient in socioeconomic health inequalities.