Access to health and health care: how race and ethnicity matter

Mt Sinai J Med. Mar-Apr 2010;77(2):166-77. doi: 10.1002/msj.20174.


Racial and ethnic disparities in health are multifactorial; they reflect differences in biological vulnerability to disease as well as differences in social resources, environmental factors, and health care interventions. Understanding and intervening in health inequity require an understanding of the disparate access to all of the personal resources and environmental conditions that are needed to generate and sustain health, a set of circumstances that constitute access to health. These include access to health information, participation in health promotion and disease prevention activities, safe housing, nutritious foods, convenient exercise spaces, freedom from ambient violence, adequate social support, communities with social capital, and access to quality health care. Access to health care is facilitated by health insurance, a regular source of care, and a usual primary care provider. Various mechanisms through which access to health and access to health care are mediated by race and ethnicity are discussed; these include the built environment, social environment, residential segregation, stress, racism, and discrimination. Empirical evidence supporting the association between these factors and health inequities is also reviewed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Continental Population Groups / statistics & numerical data*
  • Ethnic Groups / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Services Accessibility / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Services Needs and Demand / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Status Disparities
  • Humans
  • Insurance, Health / statistics & numerical data
  • New York
  • Prejudice*
  • Social Environment