Background and Definitions

Health disparities (HD) are closely linked with social, environmental, and/or economic 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 (place/context) or other characteristics historically linked to discrimination or exclusion.

The broad area of heath disparities research has benefitted significantly from transdisciplinary research teams in delineating the factors that contribute and exacerbate conditions including understanding the biological and genetic factors that mediate the outcomes. Research on issues related to HD has particularly benefitted from understanding the intersectionality of many of these factors to develop and implement strategies to improve health outcomes.

While health disparity research delineates the process by which different groups face challenges in achieving the highest level of health possible; health equity (HE) is 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 healthcare disparities. HE has two important strands:

  • Improving average health
  • Abolishing/eradicating/eliminating avoidable inequalities in health

Social determinants of health (SDOH) are strong drivers of health inequities – the unfair and avoidable factors in health status seen within and between countries. SDOH are conditions in the environment which people are born, grow, live, learn, work, play, and age, including their health system.

These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power, and resources at global, national, and local levels, which are themselves influenced by policy choices. Since these factors are avoidable, they can be addressed through a complement of scientific activities that will mediate the effects of these factors and improve overall health.

Social Determinants of Health

Social Determinants of Health

Last Updated
February 02, 2021