National environmental health measures for minority and low-income populations: tracking social disparities in environmental health

Environ Res. 2006 Oct;102(2):154-71. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2006.05.014. Epub 2006 Jul 27.


Healthy People 2010 [US Department of Health and Human Services, 2004. Healthy People 2010. Available: [accessed May 22, 2004]] has established as a top priority the elimination of health disparities. Current research suggests that characteristics of the social, physical and built environment contribute to these disparities. In order to track progress and to assess the potential contributions of the various components of the "environment," tools specific to environmental health disparities are required. In this paper, we discuss one potential tool, a set of candidate measures that may be used to track disparities in outcomes, as well as measures that may be used analytically to assess potential causal pathways. Several other reports on health and environmental measures have been produced, including the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) America's Children and the Environment. However, there has not been a comprehensive discussion about environmental measures that focus on racial, ethnic and socioeconomic disparities in health. Therefore, we focus on measures specific to historically disadvantaged populations. Based on a conceptual framework that views health disparities as partially driven by differential access to resources and exposures to hazards, we group the measures into four categories: social processes, environmental contaminants/exposures, bodyburdens of environmental contaminants, and health outcomes. We provide a few examples to illustrate each category, including residential segregation, PM(2.5) exposures, blood mercury concentrations, and asthma morbidity and mortality. These measures and categories are derived from a review of environmental health disparities from several disciplines. As a next step in a long-term effort to better understand the relationship between social disadvantage, environment, and health disparities, we hope that the proposed measures and literature review serve as a foundation for future monitoring of environmental health disparities. These efforts may aid community organizations, local agencies, scientists and policy makers in allocating resources and developing interventions.

MeSH terms

  • Asthma / epidemiology
  • Asthma / etiology
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis
  • Environmental Health / statistics & numerical data*
  • Environmental Pollutants / analysis
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity
  • Health Status*
  • Healthy People Programs
  • Humans
  • Minority Groups*
  • Poverty*
  • Socioeconomic Factors*
  • United States


  • Environmental Pollutants