Say this, not that: Ways to reframe your language to advance health equity

The American Medical Association recently published its equity guidebook focusing on language, titled "Advancing Health Equity: A Guide to Language, Narratives and Concepts."

The guide focuses on three main areas: health equity language, why narratives matter and a glossary of key terms. 

Here are some examples of how to change your language from the report: 

  • Avoid dehumanizing language. Instead of saying things like "obese people" or "the homeless," center the person in your language and remember that people are not their conditions. Instead, say "person with obesity" or "person experiencing homelessness."
  • Avoid using language with aggressive connotations like '"tackle," "target" or "combat" when discussing groups or people. Instead replace it with more collaborative language like "engage," "prioritize" or "consider."
  • Replace "black" with "Black," per the Associated Press adjustment. In the same vein, use the word "white," not "Caucasian," given the racial historical context of the word's creation.
  • Swap "disparity" for "inequity" and "minority" for "historically marginalized people."
  • When treating patients, consider the narrative they bring with them. Try to shift the focus away from the traditional, over-personalized biomedical focus on the patient and the disease and consider the larger, more structural well-being of the community the patient belongs to. While it is important to think up solutions to a patient's problems, it is critical to address the root cause of the problems in the first place.
  • For example, instead of saying, "Low-income people have the highest rate of coronary artery disease in the U.S," stop to consider the causes. A more contextual argument would be, "People who are underpaid and forced into poverty because of banking policies and corporations weakening labor movements have the highest rate of coronary artery disease in the U.S."

For more advice on altering language and encouraging critical thinking about health equity narratives, read the guide

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