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What is Health Equity? Defining a Cornerstone Term

While differences between some definitions may represent stylistic preferences, others can reflect deep divides in values and beliefs.

This report is cross-posted from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Definitions can matter. While differences between some definitions may represent stylistic preferences, others can reflect deep divides in values and beliefs that can be used to justify and promote very different policies and practices.

Culture of Health Action Framework

Health equity is a cornerstone of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJF) Culture of Health Action Framework, which aims to achieve a society in which everyone has an equal opportunity to live the healthiest life possible. Equity surrounds and underpins all of the Culture of Health Action Areas. A recent report commissioned by RWJF concluded, however, that although the term health equity is now used widely, a common understanding of what it means is lacking.

The purpose of this brief is to stimulate discussion and promote greater consensus about the meaning of health equity and the implications for action within the Culture of Health Action Framework. The goal is not for everyone to use the same words to define health equity, but to identify crucial elements to guide effective action.

Clarity is particularly important in the case of health equity because pursuing equity often involves a long uphill struggle that must strategically engage diverse stakeholders, each with their own agenda. Under those circumstances, if we are unclear about where we are going and why, we can more easily be detoured from a path toward greater equity; our efforts and resources can be co-opted, and we can become lost along the way.

Get the full report.