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Health Disparities & Health Equity: Health Disparities & Health Equity

Welcome! This guide is for anyone doing research on Health Disparities and Health Equity (or health inequity) or Social Determinants of Health and Cultural Competence in health care.


"Although the term disparities is often interpreted to mean racial or ethnic disparities, many dimensions of disparity exist in the United States, particularly in health. If a health outcome is seen to a greater or lesser extent between populations, there is disparity. Race or ethnicity, sex, sexual identity, age, disability, socioeconomic status, and geographic location all contribute to an individual’s ability to achieve good health. It is important to recognize the impact that social determinants have on health outcomes of specific populations."


Health Disparities and Health Equity:

Healthy People 2030 defines a health disparity as “a particular type of health difference that is closely linked with social, economic, and/or environmental disadvantage. Health disparities adversely affect groups of people who have systematically experienced greater obstacles to health based on their racial or ethnic group; religion; socioeconomic status; gender; age; mental health; cognitive, sensory, or physical disability; sexual orientation or gender identity; geographic location; or other characteristics historically linked to discrimination or exclusion.”

Healthy People 2030 defines health equity as “the attainment of the highest level of health for all people. Achieving health equity requires valuing everyone equally with focused and ongoing societal efforts to address avoidable inequalities, historical and contemporary injustices, and the elimination of health and health care disparities.”

Source: Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (n.d.). Health equity in Healthy People 2030. Healthy People 2030. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Centers for Disease Control (CDC): Health disparities are "preventable differences in the burden of disease, injury, violence, or opportunities to achieve optimal health that are experienced by socially disadvantaged populations." Health disparities result from multiple factors, including:

  • Poverty
  • Environmental threats
  • Inadequate access to health care
  • Individual and behavioral factors
  • Educational inequalities

Source: CDC: Health Disparities

National Institutes of Health (NIH):

A health disparity (HD) is a health difference that adversely affects disadvantaged populations, based on one or more of the following health outcomes:

  • Higher incidence and/or prevalence and earlier onset of disease
  • Higher prevalence of risk factors, unhealthy behaviors, or clinical measures in the causal pathway of a disease outcome
  • Higher rates of condition-specific symptoms, reduced global daily functioning, or self-reported health-related quality of life using standardized measures
  • Premature and/or excessive mortality from diseases where population rates differ
  • Greater global burden of disease using a standardized metric

NIH defines health disparity populations as "racial and ethnic minority populations less privileged socioeconomic status (SES) populations, underserved rural populations, sexual and gender minorities (SGM), and any subpopulations that can be characterized by two or more of these descriptions."

Health Inequities:

World Health Organization (WHO) states that "Health inequities are avoidable inequalities in health between groups of people within countries and between countries. These inequities arise from inequalities within and between societies. Social and economic conditions and their effects on people’s lives determine their risk of illness and the actions taken to prevent them becoming ill or treat illness when it occurs."

Image source: Kaiser Family Foundation

Ndugga, N. &  Artiga, S. (2021). Disparities in health and health care: 5 key questions and answers. Kaiser Family Foundation.