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Utility and limitations of measures of health inequities: a theoretical perspective

Future Health Systems

Alonge O, Peters DH, (2015) Utility and limitations of measures of health inequities: a theoretical perspective, Global Health Action, 8: 27591 -


This paper examines common approaches for quantifying health inequities and assesses the extent to which they incorporate key theories necessary for explicating the definition of health inequity. The first theoretical analysis examined the distinction between inter-individual and inter-group health inequalities as measures of health inequities. The second analysis considered the notion of fairness in health inequalities from different philosophical perspectives.

To understand the extent to which different measures of health inequities incorporate these theoretical explanations, four criteria were used to assess each measure:

  1. Does the indicator demonstrate inter-group or inter-individual health inequalities or both;
  2. Does it reflect health inequalities in relation to socioeconomic position;
  3. Is it sensitive to the absolute transfer of health (outcomes, services, or both) or income/wealth between groups;
  4. Could it be used to capture inequalities in relation to other population groupings (other than socioeconomic status)?

The measures assessed include: before and after measures within only the disadvantaged population, range, Gini coefficient, Pseudo-Gini coefficient, index of dissimilarity, concentration index, slope and relative indices of inequality, and regression techniques. None of these measures satisfied all the four criteria, except the range. Whereas each measure quantifies a different perspective in health inequities, using a measure within only the disadvantaged population does not measure health inequities in a meaningful way, even using before and after changes. For a more complete assessment of how programs affect health inequities, it may be useful to use more than one measure.