Introduction: Recent initiatives aim to improve public awareness of health disparities. However, little research has actually documented the US public's awareness of racial/ethnic and socioeconomic health disparities. We sought to determine 1) whether the US public is aware of racial, educational, and income disparities in health, 2) whether awareness differs across these disparity domains, and 3) what respondent characteristics are associated with awareness of racial, educational, and income disparities in health.
Methods: We conducted the National Opinion Survey on Health and Health Disparities with 2,791 US adults. We asked respondents to answer questions about disparities in health between 1 of several pairs of population subgroups: African Americans versus whites, non-high school graduates versus high school graduates, high school graduates versus college graduates, the poor versus the middle class, or the middle class versus the rich. We used χ(2) tests and logistic regression to compare correlates of respondents' awareness of disparities across the different pairs of population subgroups.
Results: Most respondents were aware of health disparities between the poor and middle class (73%); fewer were aware of health disparities between African Americans and whites (46%). Although respondents recognized that education is associated with many positive life outcomes, they were less aware of the link between education and health. Respondents who were younger, less educated, lower-income, healthier, or politically conservative were less likely to be aware of health disparities.
Conclusion: Public awareness of disparities in health differs depending on both the type of disparity and the characteristics of the individual respondent.