What is health equity?

Health equity focuses on meeting communities and individuals where they are, and ensuring that society provides the services, conditions and resources they need to achieve an equitable level of health.


Health inequities and health disparities have serious, often life-threatening consequences. For example, research has found that Black mothers are three times more likely to die in childbirth than White mothers. More than 2 million people in the United States are at risk of infection due to lack of access to clean water. An online vaccination portal only works if you have access to the internet.

Health equity is the only route to a humane, just society.

Howard Hu, MD, MPH, ScD
Howard Hu, MD, MPH, ScD
diverse hands in center

Health equity aims to protect the underserved and underrepresented

Underserved and underrepresented populations consist of vast numbers of people across the globe, yet these groups are systemically and chronically made vulnerable to disease, inadequate living conditions, violence, hunger and other morbidities. They are overwhelmingly populations of color, poor, non-cisgender, non-heterosexual, unhoused, mentally ill, disabled and the otherwise vulnerable.


un·​der·​served | \ ˌən-dər-ˈsərvd \
Provided with inadequate service

In population and public health, an underserved population is not provided the services, conditions and resources they need to achieve a baseline of health. Examples include an adequate level of education and access to clean drinking water.


un·​der·​rep·​re·​sent·​ed | \ ˌən-dər-ˌre-pri-ˈzen-təd \
inadequately represented

Inadequate representation often leads to being underserved due to policies that do not take into account differences in needs in relation to a diverse population. Representation in health and community settings also matters when it comes to resources, treatment, comfort level, language, other communication barriers and more.

We have to be willing to give people the resources that they need, and not treat it like ‘you have no resources… but you should be able to fix it yourself.’ Everything we know about the human condition tells us that that’s not ever going to happen.

Ricky Bluthenthal, PhD
Ricky Bluthenthal, PhD

Breaking down barriers

Addressing gaps in healthcare and championing health equity and social justice

Many population and public health issues stem from, or are influenced by, health inequities. With this in mind, researchers at the Department of Population and Public Health Sciences are generating evidence to improve public health, such as identifying risk factors that account for health disparities in historically disadvantaged groups that can be addressed with changes in health and other policies.