Visualizing Health Equity: Qualitative Perspectives on the Value and Limits of Equity Images
Background: Health educators and advocacy groups often use side-by-side visual images to communicate about equity and to distinguish it from equality. Despite the near-ubiquity of these images, little is known about how they are understood by different audiences. Aims: To assess the effectiveness of an image commonly used to communicate about health equity. Method: In 167 interviews with health stakeholders in Greater Cleveland, Ohio, in 2018 to 2019, a commonly used health equity image was shown to participants, who were asked to interpret its meaning. Interviewees included 21 health professionals, 21 clinicians, 22 metro-wide decision makers, 24 community leaders, and 79 community members. Results: About two thirds of our socioeconomically, racial/ethnically, educationally, and professionally diverse sample said the equity image helped clarify the distinction between “equality” and “equity.” Yet less than one third offered an interpretation consistent with the image’s goals of foregrounding not only injustice but also a need for systemic change. Patterns of misinterpretation were especially common among two groups: ideological conservatives and those of lower socioeconomic status. Conservatives were most likely to object to the image’s message. Conclusions: Equity images are widely used by public health educators and advocates, yet they do not consistently communicate the message that achieving equity requires systemic change. In this moment of both public health crisis and urgent concern about systemic racism, new visual tools for communicating this crucial message are needed.
Health Education and Behavior