The National Institute of Health defines health disparities as: “Differences in the incidence, prevalence, mortality, and burden of diseases and other adverse health conditions that exist among specific population groups in the United States.” In essence, disparities in health exist when there are unequal burdens of diseased among specific population groups. It is this unequal sharing of disease burdens that leads to differences in health status among population groups.
Numerous research efforts have shown that the burden of disease for various health conditions is not borne equally by all population groups. Racial and ethnic minorities, in general, suffer a disproportionate share of illness and early death. In both the state and the nation, racial and ethnic minorities experience poorer health outcomes and more premature deaths than whites.
In 1998 the nation committed to the elimination of health disparities in six targeted areas by the year 2010. These conditions were chosen due to their longstanding disparity trends between racial and ethnic minorities and whites at all stages of life.
Health equity is achieved when all people have the opportunity to be as healthy as possible and no one is limited in achieving good health because of their social position or any other social determinant of health.
Health inequity results when disparities or differences are combined with conditions that are unfair, unjust and avoidable.
Social determinants of health are defined as: income; employment and working conditions; education; neighborhoods and housing; environment; transportation; food security; access to social support networks and health care services; and racism as well as other forms of discrimination.