NCCDPHP Health Equity Glossary

CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP) Health Equity Glossary defines common health equity terms, including those used across NCCDPHP’s web pages.

Accessibility: Design, construction, development, and maintenance of facilities, information and communication technology, programs, and services so that all people, including people with disabilities, can fully and independently use them. Accessibility includes the provision of accommodations and modifications to ensure equal access to employment and participation in activities for people with disabilities, the reduction or elimination of physical and attitudinal barriers to equitable opportunities, a commitment to ensuring that people with disabilities can independently access every outward-facing and internal activity or electronic space, and the pursuit of best practices such as universal design.1

Ally/Allies: People who recognize the unearned privilege they receive from society’s patterns of injustice and take responsibility for changing these patterns. Being an ally is more than being sympathetic and feeling bad for those who experience discrimination. An ally is willing to act with, and for, others in pursuit of ending oppression and creating equality. Real allies are willing to step out of their comfort zones. Those who decide to undertake the ally role must recognize and understand the power and privileges that one receives, accepts, and experiences and they use that position to act for justice.2

Belonging: Belonging is the feeling of security and support when there is a sense of acceptance, inclusion, and identity for a member of a certain group. It is when an individual can bring their authentic self wherever they go.3

Cultural Humility: An attitude through which an individual learns about other cultures in conjunction with becoming more aware of one’s own beliefs and identities, intended to result in greater mutual understanding, equity, honesty, and trustworthy relationships.4

Disability: Any condition of the body or mind (impairment) that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities (activity limitation) and interact with the world around them (participation restrictions).5

Diversity: Any dimension that can be used to differentiate groups and people from one another. It means respect for and appreciation of differences. Diversity encompasses the range of similarities and differences each person brings to society, including but not limited to national origin, language, race, color, disability, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, veteran status, and family structures.6

Equality vs. Equity: Equality is achieved when each person or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities. Equity is achieved when it is recognized that each person or group of people has different circumstances, and resources are allocated accordingly to reach an equal outcome.7

Health Disparity: Health disparity is 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.8

Health Equity: The state in which everyone has a fair and just opportunity to attain their highest level of health. Achieving this requires focused and ongoing societal efforts to address historical and contemporary injustices; overcome economic, social, and other obstacles to health and healthcare; and eliminate preventable health disparities.8,9

Health Inequities: Particular types of health disparities that stem from unfair and unjust systems, policies, and practices and limit access to the opportunities and resources needed to live the healthiest life possible.9

Implicit Bias: A form of prejudice in favor of or against a person or group that occurs unconsciously and unintentionally, but nevertheless affects judgments, decisions, and behaviors.10

Inclusion: Inclusion is a state of being valued, respected and supported. It’s about focusing on the needs of every individual and ensuring the right conditions are in place for each person to achieve his or her full potential.11

Institutional, Structural, or Systemic Racism: The practices, policies, and laws that perpetuate racial/ethnic disparities, uphold, and privilege dominant groups, and serve to the cumulative detriment and harm of persons of color, keeping them in negative cycles of disadvantage while creating advantages for those in the dominant culture.12,13,14

Intersectionality: Interconnected structures and systems that create inequality among people and populations based on social categories of difference (such as race, class, and gender).15

Racism: Systemic prejudicial and discriminatory actions based on the idea that one race/ethnicity is superior and other racial/ethnic groups are inferior. It includes the systematic subjugation and oppression of members of certain racial/ethnic groups who have traditionally held less socio-political power to uphold the racial/ethnic majority group’s norms and ideals.16,17,18,19

Social Determinants of Health (SDOH): SDOH are the nonmedical factors that influence health outcomes. They are the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age, and the wider set of forces and systems shaping daily life. These forces (e.g., racism, climate) and systems include economic policies and systems, development agendas, social norms, social policies, and political systems.20

Social Needs: Social needs refer to a person’s perception of their own needs, based on the negative conditions and forces they face in their own lives. Unmet health-related social needs, such as those resulting in food insecurity and inadequate or unstable housing, may increase the risk of developing chronic conditions, reduce a person’s ability to manage these conditions, increase health care costs, and lead to avoidable health care utilization.21,22

  1. The White House. Executive order on diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in the federal workforce. Accessed June 25, 2021.
  2. Yeager K, Bauer-Wu S. Cultural humility: essential foundation for clinical researchers. Appl Nurs Res. 2013;26(4):251–256.
  3. Cornell University. Diversity and inclusion. Accessed September 28, 2022.
  4. Akbar M. Beyond Ally: The Pursuit of Racial Justice. Publish Your Purpose Press; 2020.
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Disability and health overview. Accessed July 28, 2021.
  6. US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Diversity and inclusion definitions. Accessed September 28, 2022.
  7. George Washington University. Equity vs. equality: what’s the difference? November 5, 2020. Accessed July 28, 2021.
  8. US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Health equity in Healthy People 2030. 2022. Accessed September 29, 2022.
  9. Braveman P, Arkin E, Orleans T, Proctor D, Plough A. What is health equity? Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. May 1, 2017. Accessed November 16, 2022.
  10. US Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health. Implicit bias. 2017. Accessed July 28, 2021.
  11. Williams D, Lawrence J, Davis B. Racism and health: evidence and needed research. Annu Rev Public Health. 2019;40:105–125.
  12. Center for the Study of Social Policy. Key equity terms and concepts: a glossary for shared understanding; 2019. Accessed July 29, 2021.
  13. Knight H, Deeny S, Dreyer K, et al. Challenging racism in the use of health data. Lancet Digital Health. 2021;3(3):144–146.
  14. Groos M, Wallace M, Hardeman R, Theall K. Measuring inequity: a systematic review of methods used to quantify structural racism. J Health Dispar Res Pract. 2018;11(2).
  15. Crenshaw K. Mapping the margins: intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. Stanford Law Rev. 1991;43:1241–1299.
  16. Bonilla-Silva E. Rethinking racism: toward a structural interpretation. Am Sociol Rev. 1997:62(3):465–480.
  17. Schaefer R. Racial and Ethnic Groups.15th ed. Pearson; 2019.
  18. Operario D, Fiske S. Racism equals power plus prejudice: a social psychological equation for racial oppression. In: JL Eberhardt, ST Fiske, eds. Confronting Racism: The Problem and the Response. Sage Publications, Inc.; 1998:33–53.
  19. James M, Burgos A. Race. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. May 28, 2008. Updated May 25, 2020. Accessed July 29, 2021.
  20. World Health Organization. Social determinants of health. Accessed August 1, 2022.
  21. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Integrating Social Care Into the Delivery of Health Care: Moving Upstream to Improve the Nation’s Health. The National Academies Press; 2019.
  22. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Accountable health communities model. Accessed August 3, 2022.