What are health disparities?

Health disparities refer to the inequalities that exist among various segments of the population that put them at greater risk for physical and mental health problems, or reductions in the quality of their daily lives. Health disparities result in premature illness, poor quality of life, a lack of access to high quality health care and shortened life expectancies.

Healthy People 2020, the initiative of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, have determined obstacles to health based on the following characteristics:

  • racial or ethnic group
  • socioeconomic status
  • geography region and neighborhood
  • religion
  • gender
  • sexual orientation
  • mental health
  • cognitive, sensory, or physical disability
  • other characteristics historically linked to discrimination or exclusion.

Health disparities result in premature illness and death as well as lack of access to quality health care.

"The need for change bulldozed a road down the center of my mind." (Maya Angelou)

How do we achieve health equity?

Long-term solutions create social, political, and economic conditions that promote health equity:

  • Public health policy and law contribute to health equity. Political and legal solutions allow access to high quality and longer lives.
  • Communities contribute to the health status of residents. Community members need access to physical and social infrastructure that promotes healthy behavior.
  • Individual behaviors contribute to health outcomes. People need access to skills, knowledge, and quality of life to make healthy choices.