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Health Disparities

The purpose of this guide is to assist students and faculty in conducting research on the topic of health disparities and health equity issues.

What are Health Disparities?

Several organizations catered towards public health services have, in recent years, developed their own definitions on health disparities. While each organization may have a different wording, each emphasizes the detrimental impact that these disparities can have on several different areas of an individual's life.

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 

Health inequities are systematic differences in the health status of different population groups. These inequities have significant social and economic costs both to individuals and societies.

World Health Organization 

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

National Institute of Health 

Health disparities are preventable differences in the burden of disease, injury, violence, or in opportunities to achieve optimal health experienced by socially disadvantaged racial, ethnic, and other population groups, and communities. Health disparities exist in all age groups, including older adults.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 

What is Health Equity?

Health equity, in essence, can be described as a solution to health disparities - when we eliminate preventable differences in health based on individual circumstance, health equity is reached. The following are additional definitions of health equity from reputable health organizations.

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.

Healthy People 2030

Health equity means that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. This requires removing obstacles to health such as poverty, discrimination, and their consequences, including powerlessness and lack of access to good jobs with fair pay, quality education and housing, safe environments, and health care.

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation 

Equity is the absence of unfair, avoidable or remediable differences among groups of people, whether those groups are defined socially, economically, demographically, or geographically or by other dimensions of inequality (e.g. sex, gender, ethnicity, disability, or sexual orientation). Health is a fundamental human right. Health equity is achieved when everyone can attain their full potential for health and well-being.

World Health Organization 

[Health equity means] everyone has the opportunity to attain their highest level of health.

American Public Health Association 

TEDx Talk on Health Equity

Dr. Keri Norris is the Chief of Health Policy and Administration at the Fulton DeKalb Hospital Authority in Atlanta, GA. In this presentation, she provides insight on the preventability of health disparities and emphasizes the importance of perspective.