Introduction

This briefing summarises NICE's recommendations for local authorities and partner organisations on population health and health inequalities. It is particularly relevant to health and wellbeing boards.

Health inequalities impact on people and communities

Health inequalities are differences between people or groups due to social, geographical, biological or other factors. These differences have a huge impact, because they result in people who are worst off experiencing poorer health and shorter lives.

Some differences, such as ethnicity, may be fixed. Others are caused by social or geographical factors (also known as 'health inequities') and can be avoided or mitigated.

Tackling health inequalities

Local authorities are uniquely placed to tackle health inequalities, as many of the social and economic determinants of health, and the services or activities which can make a difference, fall within their remit (see diagram 1). The challenge is to reduce the difference in mortality and morbidity rates between rich and poor and to increase the quality of life and sense of wellbeing of the whole local community.

Diagram 1: The social determinants of health and examples of local government services and activities that can make a difference

Diagram 1: The social determinants of health and examples of local government services and activities that can make a difference

Source: adapted from Campbell F (editor) (2010) The social determinants of health and the role of local government.

Effective interventions to improve health and reduce health inequalities (so reducing the social gradient) can be measured by comparing data on mortality and morbidity with a measure of a person's social position and their health. In this country, the lower someone's social position, the worse their health is likely to be.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) is an independent organisation providing guidance on the promotion of good health and the prevention and treatment of ill health.

For further information on how to use this briefing and how it was developed, see About this briefing.