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      Inequalities in health: definitions, concepts, and theories


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          Individuals from different backgrounds, social groups, and countries enjoy different levels of health. This article defines and distinguishes between unavoidable health inequalities and unjust and preventable health inequities. We describe the dimensions along which health inequalities are commonly examined, including across the global population, between countries or states, and within geographies, by socially relevant groupings such as race/ethnicity, gender, education, caste, income, occupation, and more. Different theories attempt to explain group-level differences in health, including psychosocial, material deprivation, health behavior, environmental, and selection explanations. Concepts of relative versus absolute; dose–response versus threshold; composition versus context; place versus space; the life course perspective on health; causal pathways to health; conditional health effects; and group-level versus individual differences are vital in understanding health inequalities. We close by reflecting on what conditions make health inequalities unjust, and to consider the merits of policies that prioritize the elimination of health disparities versus those that focus on raising the overall standard of health in a population.

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              The concepts and principles of equity and health.

              In 1984, the 32 member states of the World Health Organization European Region took a remarkable step forward in agreeing unanimously on 38 targets for a common health policy for the Region. Not only was equity the subject of the first of these targets, but it was also seen as a fundamental theme running right through the policy as a whole. However, equity can mean different things to different people. This article looks at the concepts and principles of equity as understood in the context of the World Health Organization's Health for All policy. After considering the possible causes of the differences in health observed in populations--some of them inevitable and some unnecessary and unfair--the author discusses equity in relation to health care, concentrating on issues of access to care, utilization, and quality. Lastly, seven principles for action are outlined, stemming from these concepts, to be borne in mind when designing or implementing policies, so that greater equity in health and health care can be promoted.

                Author and article information

                Glob Health Action
                Glob Health Action
                Global Health Action
                Co-Action Publishing
                24 June 2015
                : 8
                : 10.3402/gha.v8.27106
                [1 ]Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, University in Boston, MA, USA
                [2 ]Region 2, United States Environmental Protection Agency, New York, NY, USA
                Author notes
                [* ]Correspondence to: S. V. Subramanian, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 677 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA, Email: svsubram@ 123456hsph.harvard.edu
                © 2015 Mariana C. Arcaya et al.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, allowing third parties to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format and to remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially, provided the original work is properly cited and states its license.

                : 29 December 2014
                : 23 February 2015
                : 03 April 2015
                Review Article

                Health & Social care
                health disparities,inequality,inequity,theory
                Health & Social care
                health disparities, inequality, inequity, theory


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