Health TED Partners

Powerful films from 5 young people: What health inequality looks like in the US

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By Michael Painter. 

For some of us, it’s easy to choose to be healthy. We can’t control whether disease or accidents strike, but we can decide where we live and what we eat, as well as if, when and how much we’ll exercise. Some of us live in a culture of health — a time and place where, for the most part, we have the real hope and opportunity to live a healthy life.

But for many more of us, it isn’t — we don’t have that choice. We live in unsafe neighborhoods. We don’t have strong families to help us through life’s challenges. We can’t readily get nutritious food. We don’t have easy ways to exercise. It’s difficult — or even impossible — to keep our children safe.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation was at TED2015 in Vancouver last week, where the theme was Truth & Dare. And we took that challenge, and held a workshop with TED attendees to have a frank, open discussion about health inequity. To kickstart the discussion, we first asked young people across America to reveal the health challenges in their own lives, from their perspective.

In a few weeks, five young filmmakers created powerful videos about their communities and lives. Lily Yu, 19, reflected on growing up in West Oakland, California, “fenced in by freeways,” with poor air quality and limited food choices. Tyson Sanford-Griffin, 18, shared what it’s like to free-run through his neighborhood in Baltimore. “I think about what life would be like if my city was safer,” he says. “Can you imagine waking up every morning knowing that nothing bad would happen when you walk out your front door?”

Ricardo Amparo, 17, lives there too, and echoed, “Violence is all around me … As a young black man in Baltimore, I’m trying to be a positive person, but I often feel trapped in a negative environment.” Meanwhile, Jasmine Barclay, 19, revealed what it’s like to be one of the 1 in 28 young people in America who grew up with an incarcerated parent — and to have lived in nine different homes so far. And Julia Retzlaff, 18, of San Francisco shares how her fear of sexual assault and harassment on the street has been paralyzing to her and friends.

These young filmmakers believe, like I do, that everyone deserves a chance to live the healthiest life possible. But what they see is the truth for many people who are struggling with inequities in their communities. The problems are big and complex. We need the best thinking — and help from everyone — to solve them.

The world needs everyone’s creativity, ingenuity, innovation and compassion to help fix health equity. When it comes to building a future with a culture of health for all, there is no “they.” We are all in this struggle for a better future together.

We hope you enjoy these videos. And if you have a great idea to build that future, jump on Twitter and add it to the #TED2015 #CultureofHealth conversation.