Minority Health and Health Disparities Definitions

NIMHD's foundation addresses the reality that, in the United States, many racial and ethnic minority populations experience poorer health and greater disparities in health outcomes.

Minority health research focuses on understanding and improving the health of people from specific racial or ethnic minority groups. The central core of health disparities research involves identifying how race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status interact with health determinants, such as social determinants, individual behaviors, the physical and cultural environment, and biological systems, to lead to differential clinical and population health outcomes.

Frequently, the terms minority health and health disparities are used interchangeably. However, the two terms cover distinct areas of research with substantial overlap in areas where identification of or impact on a disparity is recognized. To advance the science of minority health and of health disparities research, toward an America where all populations have an equal opportunity to live long, healthy, productive lives, the following clarifying definitions and criteria have been developed:

Minority Health Definition

Distinctive health characteristics and attributes of racial and/or ethnic minority populations who are socially disadvantaged due in part to being subject to racist or discriminatory acts and are underserved in health care.

Health Disparity Definition

A health disparity is a health difference that adversely affects disadvantaged populations in comparison to a reference population, based on one or more health outcomes. All populations with health disparities are socially disadvantaged due in part to being subject to racist or discriminatory acts and are underserved in health care.

Minority Health Research

The scientific investigation of singular and combinations of attributes, characteristics, behaviors, biology, and societal and environmental factors that influence the health of minority racial and/or ethnic population(s), including within-group or ethnic sub-populations, with the goals of improving health and preventing disease.

Health Disparity Research

A multi-disciplinary field of study devoted to:

  • Gaining greater scientific knowledge about the influence of health determinants.
  • Understanding the role of mechanisms.
  • Determining how this knowledge is translated into interventions to reduce or eliminate adverse health outcomes.
Minority Health Populations

The OMB Directive 15 defines racial and ethnic minority populations as:

  • American Indian or Alaska Native
  • Asian
  • Black or African American
  • Hispanic or Latino American
  • Middle Eastern or North African
  • Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander
Populations with Health Disparities

NIH-designated populations that experience health disparities include:

  • Racial and ethnic minority groups
  • People with lower socioeconomic status (SES)
  • Underserved rural communities
  • Sexual and gender minority (SGM) groups
  • People with disabilities
Health Disparity Outcomes

The health outcomes are categorized as:

  • Higher incidence and/or prevalence of disease, including earlier onset or more aggressive progression of disease.
  • Premature or excessive mortality from specific health conditions.
  • Greater global burden of disease, such as Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALY), as measured by population health metrics.
  • Poorer health behaviors and clinical outcomes related to the aforementioned.
  • Worse outcomes on validated self-reported measures that reflect daily functioning or symptoms from specific conditions.

Page updated June 20, 2024