What Is Health Disparity? Definition, Examples, and Resources

View all blog posts under Articles

Health workers discuss the challenges of health disparity.


There are a number of health differences seen between various populations. For example, data from the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) indicates that people who live in poverty have higher rates of chronic conditions, such as heart disease and obesity, than people who live in more affluent communities. The ODPHP also found approximately 50% of children who live in impoverished neighborhoods have cavities, compared with 30% for children living above the poverty level.

Income, education, marital status, and geographic location, such as living in a rural community as opposed to a city, are among the factors that contribute to health disparities.

What Is Health Disparity?

Health disparities are the differences in health status across various socioeconomic, ethnic, and racial groups. Additional examples of its prevalence are available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which indicates that African American women are three times more likely than Caucasian women to die from a pregnancy-related medical condition, such as postpartum hemorrhage. The CDC further reports that African American populations are also more likely to be diagnosed with HIV.

In 2017, the CDC reported that 43% of new HIV infections were among African Americans, although this group represents just 13% of the U.S. population, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). That same year, the CDC reported that 19% of new HIV infections took place in women, yet African American women accounted for 62% of all newly infected female patients.

Individuals who want to learn more about what health disparity is and work in a field that focuses on mitigating it may benefit from completing an advanced degree. For example, graduates of an online Master of Public Health program often have the skills and knowledge to address various health differences across populations.

What Are the Causes and Effects of Health Disparity?

There are a number of causes of health disparity, including poverty, inequitable access to health care, and lack of education on health issues. The effects of these disparities can lead to patients’ delay in seeking care, higher rates of chronic disease, and higher rates of death.

  • Poverty: Data from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) indicates that individuals who live in poverty are more prone to health-risk behaviors, such as drug use, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption. As such, individuals in this population often have higher rates of malnutrition, chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, and premature mortality.
  • Inequitable Access to Health Care: An article published by News Medical reports that differences in access to health care is another contributing factor to health disparities. For example, populations that lack health insurance and financial resources are more likely to delay health care and go without medications they should have been prescribed. Structural barriers, such as a lack of transportation to doctors’ offices and health care facility waiting times, can also reduce the likelihood that a person will receive care.
  • Lack of Education on Health Issues: The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) reports that individuals living in tropical climates and in areas with poor sanitation or unsafe drinking water are often less educated about parasitic diseases. This can often lead to higher mortality rates. For example, individuals who contract malaria, a life-threatening disease typically transmitted by mosquitoes, but who are uneducated about malaria’s symptoms may be less likely to seek medical care at symptom onset.

Resources for Remedying Health Disparity

Public health professionals must understand what health disparity is to address it successfully. When public health agencies, such as community health care clinics or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, identify disparities, they can address them in a variety of ways, such as increasing access to low-cost or free services in poor and rural communities. These agencies can also address disparities by providing classes or educational seminars about crucial health topics, such as how physical activity and nutrition can impact a person’s long-term health. Increasing access to basic health services and providing counseling and intervention for at-risk groups are other examples of remedies.

  • Increasing access to basic health services: Patients’ access to primary and preventive care is an important component of maintaining and improving health, preventing and managing disease, and avoiding premature death. Reducing financial barriers to care by providing low-cost or free services may increase the likelihood that people will seek and receive the care they need, when they need it.
  • Counseling and intervention for at-risk groups: Wellness counseling and intervention can help patient populations maximize their quality of life by teaching them how to adopt healthy habits. Counseling on the prevention and management of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, as well as how to prevent the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, can be helpful in addressing key topics among at-risk groups.

Earn Your Master of Public Health and Improve the Health of Communities

Ohio University’s online  Master of Public Health program aims to provide public health professionals with the advanced knowledge and skills to address the challenges of health disparity. The coursework teaches students how limited access to health care, lower socioeconomic status, and poor living conditions can set the stage for the differences in health status across populations.

Are you interested in pursuing a career that will allow you to address health disparity in the United States? Discover how Ohio University’s  Master of Public Health program can prepare you for leadership roles in the field of public health.

Recommended Reading

MPA vs. MPH: Which One Is Right for You?

3 Lucrative MPH Career Opportunities for Graduates

Public Health vs. Medicine: What’s the Difference?



Boston Public Health Commission, “Health Disparities vs. Health Inequities”

Center for American Progress, “Improving Women’s Health Outcomes Through Payment and Delivery System Reform”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Health Disparities and Strategies Reports

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HIV Statistics Center

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “HIV Surveillance Report”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System

Communities in Action: Pathways to Health Equity, “The State of Health Disparities in the United States”

Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: HealthPeople.gov, Disparities

National Center for Biotechnology Information, “Poverty and Health Disparities: What Can Public Health Professionals Do?

National Human Genome Research Institute, Neglected Diseases FAQ

News Medical, “Disparities in Access to Health Care”