Using Data to Reduce the Health Divide Between Women and Men

When I gave birth to my daughter years ago, I realized that without making a single conscious decision, her trajectory in life would be significantly influenced by the fact that she was a girl. Luckily, I believe that she has the opportunity to thrive being in Canada, but in many regions of the world, her female gender would be one of the most important determinants of her health and the health of her family.

Gender equity is a global issue that has one of the biggest impacts on health. While there have been significant improvements in the health of women in many countries, there are places in the world where gender inequalities are widespread and have important health consequences.

It is recognized that the fundamental causes of health differences among women and men are rooted in the individual's economic, political, historical, cultural and social situation, but the extent to which societal patterns of gender equity influence inequality can be multi-factorial and variable depending on the setting.

For example, the ability of a female to access education at an early age can not only offer her employment opportunities, but it will also influence her entire family through the promotion of health, nutrition and skills, which can be passed on to her children.

It has been demonstrated in many different counties that reducing gender inequities can have a positive effect on the family and the community.

Public health lies at the intersection of all the social, physical and biological drivers of health that make up the totality of the human experience. This is why public health has a role in understanding and documenting the impact of inequalities to support the development of policies and interventions that will ultimately provide equal health opportunities for all individuals in society.

As a chronic disease epidemiologist, I look at health outcomes of populations at the macro level -- such as a neighborhood, province or country -- and give policy makers and health providers information to make informed decisions that improve a group of people's health. In other words, I provide the information they need to improve the health of an entire population, which is quite distinct from focusing on an individual.

I am also a big data scientist and part of a growing community of scholars who are compiling large information sets to illustrate the impact of health systems. These data sets can also shed light on global and local health problems, and they can inform solutions that will have the biggest impact on the population.

By linking disease trends, risk factors and geographical mortality patterns with socio-demographic information and socio-economic indicators, such as wealth and education, we can target interventions at where inequities are concentrated.

Data can be used to justify action. In my work, I have seen how data can be used to make the connection between health and societal impact. By using data from diverse sources, we can fully understand how changes to the world -- through policies and programs -- can influence health directly and indirectly.

In fact, linking non-health data, like air quality, transportation and education to health data -- disease prevalence, mortality rates, etc. -- reveals important patterns and can result in the formation of strategic, multi-sectoral solutions that are synergistic across society.

Health is about so much more than fighting disease, and good health is driven by strong social determinants. Public health must continue to support ways to ensure all people have equal footing to adapt and thrive. The solutions aren't easy and increasingly my research is demonstrating that they are not solely confined to the health sector. That's why epidemiologists and big data scientists must work beside city planners, government officials, education leaders and many other fields to minimize inequalities and transform the health paradigm.

At the upcoming global health summit, Creating a Pandemic of Health, these groups will discuss global health issues, gender equality and the role of big data improving health around the world. The summit is hosted by the University of Toronto's Dalla Lana School of Public Health. All are welcome and registration is free. Click here for more information.