To effectively use the Toolkit, it is important to understand key terms related to equity in health. The terms discussed below, although similar, have distinct definitions and uses. These terms are defined and frequently referred to throughout the Toolkit
Health disparities are measured differences in health and disease outcomes as well as the discrepancies in access to health care between populations. These differences are often avoidable, and may be attributed to multiple factors. The term health inequalities, although often used interchangeably with health disparities, is generally used in scientific or economic literature. Health inequities are a type of health disparity, considered to be preventable, and often unethical. Health inequities develop in response to the social determinants of health. Social determinants of health are the societal, economic, and cultural conditions in which populations reside that influence the health outcomes of those populations. These determinants are shaped by the availability of resources (both monetary and otherwise). In response to the presence of health inequities, practitioners and policy makers strive to ensure health equity, which describes the same high degree of health and access to healthcare for all peoples within an overall population. To accomplish health equity necessitates programs targeted at eliminating social injustice, preventing health inequities, and ensuring access to health and social services for all.
Here is a hypothetical example to tie all of these terms together:
A researcher gathers statewide data regarding the prevalence of childhood obesity. It was found that, when adjusted for geographic location, income, and ethnicity, obesity prevalence was higher among girls than boys. This measured difference in disease burden is a health disparity or inequality. It was also found that obesity prevalence was higher among children in low-income areas as compared to children from areas of greater wealth. This difference in disease burden between groups is an example of a health inequity when low-income households lack access to resources which positively affect health. An example of such a resource might be safe environments for physical activity. To strive towards health equity, efforts could be targeted to low-income areas for the building and maintenance of recreational areas, sidewalks, or bike paths to encourage physical activity.