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The American Cancer Society

What we can do to end health disparities

April 15, 2014

By Kassandra I. Alcaraz, PhD, MPH

During National Minority Cancer Awareness Week and National Minority Health Month, the American Cancer Society, health agencies, and other organizations seek to raise awareness of health disparities, or health inequities, among racial and ethnic minority groups. Most of us have probably seen or heard the phrase "health disparities." But what, exactly, does this phrase mean? And why is it important?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines a health disparity as "a particular type of health difference that is closely linked with social or economic disadvantage." 

These disadvantages include things like racial discrimination, racially-segregated neighborhoods, and social stratification (the inequitable distribution of privilege, power, wealth, and resources in our society), and they have resulted in unequal access to quality health care, health information, and health programs for racial and ethnic minority groups. These "root causes" not only make the nation unhealthier as a whole but also present real challenges to eliminating disparities.

Although health disparities are not limited to racial and ethnic minority populations, this particular month gives us a dedicated time to better understand disparities among these groups. In the United States, racial and ethnic minority populations bear a disproportionately high burden of disease such as cancer. Generally these groups have worse outcomes than non-Hispanic whites when diagnosed with the same disease. More...

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Disparities

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