What is Health Equity? And What Difference Does a Definition Make?

Health Equity, Key Concepts

“While the term health equity is commonly used, a common understanding of what it means is lacking.” -Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

This report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation aims to build consensus around the meaning of health equity and the implications for acting on it. The report provides the following definition of health equity to guide action and research:

“Health equity means that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. This requires removing obstacles to health such as poverty, discrimination, and their consequences, including powerlessness and lack of access to good jobs with fair pay, quality education and housing, safe environments, and health care.”

The report puts forward the case that definitions matter. Whereas a lack of clarity can create barriers to effective engagement and action, consensus around the meaning of health equity can help foster productive dialogue among diverse stakeholder groups.

The report identifies essential elements to guide effective action, rather than encouraging all practitioners to use the same words to define health equity.

The report puts forward four key steps to advancing health equity:

  • Identify important health disparities
  • Change and implement policies, laws, systems, environments, and practices to reduce inequities in the opportunities and resources needed to be as healthy as possible.
  • Evaluate and monitor efforts using short- and long-term measures
  • Reassess strategies in light of process and outcomes and plan next steps.

The authors note, “equity is not the same as equality. To equalize opportunities, those with worse health and fewer resources need more efforts expended to improve their health”.

    How to use this resource:

    • Facilitate discussion on the meaning of health equity and terms that often arise in discussions of health equity
    • Identify values and principles to guide efforts toward health equity action
    • Explore examples of advancing health equity


    EQUIP Health Care. (2017). Key Dimensions of Equity-Oriented Care: 10 Strategies to Guide Organizations in Enhancing Capacity for Equity-Oriented Health Care. Retrieved from www.equiphealthcare.ca