The Office of Health Communications and Health Disparities

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Health Disparities Defined

Health Disparities can be defined as inequalities that exist when members of certain population groups do not benefit from the same health status as other groups.  In relation to cancer, such differences occur when one group of people has a higher incidence of mortality rate than another, or when one group has a lower survival rate than another.  Health disparities can usually be identified along racial and ethnic lines, indicating that African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, and Native Americans have different disease and survival rates from other populations.  Such disparities however can also extend beyond race to include areas such as access to healthcare, socio-economic status, gender, and biological or behavioral factors.  

What is a "health disparity"?

"Health disparities are 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."
– National Institutes of Health


In 2000, United States Public Law 106-525, also known as the "Minority Health and Health Disparities Research and Education Act," which authorized the National Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities, provided a legal definition of health disparities:

"A population is a health disparity population if there is a significant disparity in the overall rate of disease incidence, prevalence, morbidity, mortality or survival rates in the population as compared to the health status of the general population."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

NCI Fact sheet

NCI Plan to Overcome Cancer Health Disparities [PDF]