Health Equity Guiding Principles for Inclusive Communication

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CDC’s Guiding Principles to Promote an Equity-Centered Approach to Public Health Communication Tools for Public Health Practice; Preventing Chronic Disease Journal – Volume 20 – July 6, 2023Renee M. Calanan, PhD, MS; Michelle E. Bonds, MBA; Sara R. Bedrosian, BA, BFA; Susan K. Laird, DNP, MSN, RN; Delight Satter, MPH Ana Penman-Aguilar, PhD, MPH.

To build a healthier America for all, we must confront the systems and policies that have resulted in the generational injustice that has given rise to health inequities. We at CDC want to lead in this effort—both in the work we do on behalf of the nation’s health and the work we do internally as an organization.

Achieving health equity requires focused and ongoing societal efforts to address historical and contemporary injustices; overcome economic, social, and other obstacles to best health and healthcare; and eliminate preventable health disparities.

CDC’s Health Equity Guiding Principles for Inclusive Communication emphasizes the importance of addressing all people inclusively and respectfully. These principles are intended to help public health professionals, particularly health communicators, within and outside of CDC ensure their communication products and strategies adapt to the specific cultural, linguistic, environmental, and historical situation of each population or audience of focus.

This is a living document which will be adapted as both language and cultural norms change. This is not a style guide and is not meant to be prescriptive or exhaustive, but rather to provide principles, resources, and specific suggestions on a variety of topics to help inform an inclusive approach to public health communications. These guiding principles reflect the best practices as we know them at CDC. We hope these suggestions can be a good starting point for your organization as you continue to engage with your communities and partners to build a shared vocabulary.

CDC encourages all public health professionals and partners at the federal, state, and local levels to apply these principles across their public health communication work, including when creating information resources and presentations, when engaging with partners, and/or when developing and reviewing external or internal communication materials. This means:

  • Using a health equity lens when framing information about health disparities.
  • Considering the key principles, such as using person-first language and avoiding unintentional blaming.
  • Using preferred terms for select population groups while recognizing that there isn’t always agreement on these terms.
  • Considering how communications are developed and look for ways to develop more inclusive health communications products.
  • Considering whether an image is culturally appropriate, clear, and inclusive, and supports and does not detract from your message.
  • Exploring other resources and references related to health equity communications.