Health Inequalities

Health Inequalities are the differences in health status between groups of people which are important, unnecessary, unfair, unjust, systematic, and avoidable by reasonable means. They can be observed between populations and groups within populations, and as a gradient. They can also be observed between countries and regions. They are linked to social, economic, and environmental conditions- the conditions in which we are born, grow, live, work and age. 

These inequalities often mean that the lower social and economic status – or relative disadvantage – of an individual or group in society is connected to lower health status. (see: the social gradient in health). Health inequalities are connected to wider inequalities and forms of discrimination in society, such as racism and sexism as well as economic imbalances.

Other useful definitions

The systematic, avoidable and unfair differences in health outcomes that can be observed between populations, between social groups within the same population or as a gradient across a population ranked by social position are proposed. (Source: McCartney, G., Popham, F. , McMaster, R. and Cumbers, A. (2019) Defining health and health inequalities. Public Health, 172, pp. 22-30.)

Health inequalities are unfair and avoidable differences in health across the population, and between different groups within society.  Health inequalities arise because of the conditions in which we are born, grow, live, work and age. These conditions influence our opportunities for good health, and how we think, feel and act, and this shapes our mental health, physical health and wellbeing. (Source: NHS England)

Health inequities are systematic differences in the health status of different population groups. These inequities have significant social and economic costs both to individuals and societies.
(Source: WHO)

The difference between health inequality and health equity.

Some languages, including English, use two distinct terms,  ‘health inequity’ and ‘health inequality’ to describe two technically distinct concepts. Some languages use one term to cover all related meanings and concepts. This is further complicated by the fact that in languages where the two terms exist, they are often used interchangeably. In addition, different organisations and authors give definitions of each term.

Generally, the technical distinction between the two concepts health inequality and health inequity is that health inequality can refer to all differences, and health inequity refers just to those differences which are unnecessary, avoidable, unfair and unjust.1Whitehead, M; The concepts and principles of equity and health; https://doi.org/10.2190/986L-LHQ6-2VTE-YRRN Making this distinction means:

  • Health inequalities are the Differences in health status occurring among individuals or groups or, more formally, the total inter-individual variation in health for a population, which often considers differences in socioeconomic status or other demographic characteristics.
  • Health inequities are differences in health that are unnecessary, avoidable, unfair and unjust

(Source: WHO world report on ageing and health)

On this website we use the widest definition and use ‘health inequalities’ and ‘health equity’ interchangeably and in the widest sense.

 

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