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Health inequities: Exploring conceptualizations of equity in planning and public health discourse

Authors: Keely Stenberg*, University of Waterloo, Jennifer Dean, University of Waterloo
Topics: Geography and Urban Health, Medical and Health Geography, Urban and Regional Planning
Keywords: Health equity, urban planning, public health, healthy built environments, critical discourse analysis
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The professions of public health and urban planning share common beginnings: they sought to curb the rise of communicable diseases in the over-populated and unsanitary urban areas rapidly emerging during the industrial revolution. More recently, the two disciplines have again collaborated to address the rising chronic disease and climate crises of the late 20th century (Barton, 2009). In the plethora of work that has emerged since the 1980s related to planning and public health, often termed ‘healthy built environments,’ there has been inconsistent consideration of place as a factor contributing to health equity. This paper critically assesses the ways in which both public health and planning have considered and conceptualized health equity as an objective or co-benefit of planning healthy places. Applying a critical discourse analysis lens to key academic literature over a twenty-five year period, this work highlights inconsistencies in how the term health equity is defined and operationalized. Based on themes from the literature, this work further explores the populations, areas, and scale of place-based research concerned with health equity, in addition to recommendations for addressing inequities (i.e., collaboration, policy development, and evaluation). As a result of this critique, the authors recommend that researchers and practitioners clearly state their definition of health (in)equity at the outset of their work and expand the scope of initiatives focused on addressing health inequities.

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