Ways to reframe your language to advance health equity


The American Medical Association recently released its language-focused equity guide, “Advancing Health Equity: A Guide to Language, Narratives and Concepts.”

The guide focuses on three main areas: the language of health equity, the importance of storytelling, 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 “homeless people,” center the person in your language and remember that people are not on their terms. Instead, say “obese person” or “homeless person”.
  • Avoid using language with aggressive connotations like “attack”, “target” or “fight” when discussing groups or individuals. Instead, replace it with more collaborative language like “engage”, “prioritize” or “consider”.
  • Replace “black” with “black”, depending on the Associated Press setting. Likewise, use the word “white,” not “Caucasian,” given the historical racial background to the creation of the word.
  • Replace “disparity” with “inequality” and “minority” with “historically marginalized”.
  • When treating patients, consider the story they bring with them. Try to shift attention away from the traditional and overly personalized biomedical focus on the patient and the disease and consider the broader and more structural well-being of the community to which the patient belongs. While finding solutions to a patient’s problems is important, it is essential to address the root cause of the problems first.
  • For example, instead of saying, “Low-income people have the highest rate of coronary heart disease in the United States,” stop to examine the causes. A more contextual argument would be: “People underpaid and forced into poverty by bank and corporate policies that weaken labor movements have the highest rate of coronary heart disease in the United States.”

For more tips on changing language and encouraging critical thinking about health equity stories, read the guide.

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