Analyzing Health Disparities

This lesson helps students investigate the causes and impact of health disparities and challenges them to design solutions for positively impacting a health disparity in their own community.
Grade Level


Activities will help students:

  • Conduct an assessment related to health-disparity issues and consider why some kids might be at a disadvantage
  • Consider the causes and impact of several national health disparities
  • Investigate the causes and impact of health disparities in their own community
  • Design solutions for positively impacting a health disparity in their own community
Essential Questions
  • Do you think you deserve everything you have?
  • Are you entitled to live in safe community?
  • What would happen if you couldn’t go to a doctor when you were sick?
  • Is “all men are created equal” a reality in the United States?
  • Have you ever felt like you were at an unfair disadvantage?


bias [bahy-uhs] (noun) a tendency or inclination that prevents unprejudiced consideration

disparity [dih-spar-i-tee] (noun) lack of equality, inequality, difference

minority [mi-nawr-i-tee] (noun) a group differing especially in race, religion, or ethnic background

unfair [uhn-fair] (adjective) not fair, not conforming to approved standards as of justice, honesty or ethics



  1. Review Handout 1: Health for All: School Assessment and place a check next to each statement that you would consider true about your school’s population. Then give 1 point for every true statement. Add the points, and write the total on a small slip of paper. (Collect the slips of paper and assign one classmate to add up the points. Keep the total secret.)
  2. Before learning the class average, think about the following:
    • Do you think your point total is higher, lower or the same as the class average?
    • What if the exercise were extended to all teens in your surrounding communities, would your total be higher, lower or the same as the average? The state? The country?
  3. Write down your prediction for the class average. (Note: Have all the students show their predictions.) Look at the total for the class on the board. What is the average for the class? Write it down. (Note: Have all the students show their averages and then share the average.)
  4. With the class, discuss the following:
    • Were you surprised by the average? If so, was it higher or lower than you thought?
    • If you could only check off five statements, which would you choose?
    • Does every young person deserve to be able to check off every statement?
    • Is it fair to assume that one teen group might have a higher average than others?
  5. (Note: Write the word, “disparity” on the board.) What does the word “disparity” mean to you? (Note: Read the actual definition from the glossary.)
  6. Given what the word “disparity” means, what might a “health disparity” be? (NoteA health disparity is the preventable differences in the burden of disease, injury, violence or opportunities that are experienced by socially disadvantaged populations.)
  7. In a small group, list socially disadvantaged groups in the United States that you believe would likely experience health disparities and why. Refer to the questions on the school assessment for possible reasons why. Share your list with the class and create one class list.
  8. (Note: Distribute the Health for All? handout.) The handout Health for All? includes statistics related to health disparities for several groups in the United States. In the same small group, review the statistics and list the factors that likely contribute to each disparity. Review answers as a class. Which factors would you consider historical and which would be more contemporary? How can historical issues continue to create current health disparities?
  9. Then, in your groups, complete the Performance Task handout.
Extension Activity

It is believed that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans of different racial and ethnic groups suffer the health disparities of both the LGBT community and the health disparities for their ethnic or racial minority. Very few surveys ask for a person’s sexual orientation in addition to their race and ethnicity so information is hard to find. Research the support systems for the LGBT population in your own school and community. If appropriate, suggest additional resources that could help this underserved community.

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Welcome to Learning for Justice—Formerly Teaching Tolerance!

Our work has evolved in the last 30 years, from reducing prejudice to tackling systemic injustice. So we’ve chosen a new name that better reflects that evolution: Learning for Justice.

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