The description and explanation of racial and ethnic health disparities are major initiatives of the public health research establishment. Black Americans suffer on nearly every measure of health in relation to white Americans. Five theoretical models have been proposed to explain these disparities: a racial-genetic model, a health-behavior model, a socioeconomic status model, a psychosocial stress model, and a structural-constructivist model. We selectively review literature on health disparities, emphasizing research on low birth weight and high blood pressure. The psychosocial stress model and the structural-constructivist model offer greatest promise to explain disparities. In future research, theoretical elaboration and operational specificity are needed to distinguish among three distinct factors: () genetic variants contributing to disease risk; () ethnoracial or folk racial categories masquerading as biology; and () ethnic group membership. Such elaboration is necessary to move beyond the conflation of these three distinct constructs that characterizes much of current research.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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