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9.1 Health Disparities Defined

Health disparities occur when there is a difference in health care access and outcomes between two or more groups of individuals. Health disparities occur for various reasons, including limited access to health services due to higher rates of poverty, which limits the ability to purchase health insurance. The key to addressing health disparities is to minimize the effects of the social determinants of health.

9.2 Race and Ethnicity Disparities

Minority health refers to the characteristics and attributes of health specific to a racial or ethnic minority group who are socially disadvantaged and are underserved in health care. Factors that exacerbate inequalities among various groups of individuals include income inequality, environment, racism, sexism, ableism, classism, and homophobia. Systemic and structural racism also disadvantages minority populations. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated racial disparities.

9.3 Gender Disparities

Sex refers to the physiological and biological characteristics of males and females; gender refers to male and female characteristics that are socially constructed. Gender norms are social and cultural principles that influence ideas on how different genders should behave in society. Gender affects people’s experiences with and access to health care. Research shows that the LGBTQIA+ population experiences poorer health outcomes compared to the cis-heterosexual population.

9.4 Geographical Disparities

Geography has historically influenced the health and well-being of communities, health care delivery, and health outcomes of the population. Geographical disparities are differences in health care access and outcomes based upon where an individual lives. Disparities exist between rural and urban areas, populations of different states, and even by zip code in the same county. Individuals living in rural areas face issues such as geographic isolation, lower socioeconomic status, higher rates of health risk behaviors, limited access to health care specialists and subspecialists, and limited job opportunities.

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