Health Disparities Initiative

Initiative Overview

In 2011, the American Psychological Association approved the development of a health disparities initiative as an activity of its Strategic Plan. The purpose of the Health Disparities Initiative is to increase support for research, training, public education and interventions that improve health and reduce health disparities among underserved and vulnerable populations. Learn more about how psychologists are helping to reduce health disparities.

Who is affected by health disparities?

Health disparity populations include a wide range of communities where there is evidence of systematic social or economic discrimination and exclusion that has adversely impacted health based on such factors as race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, age, sexual orientation and geographic location (Office of Minority Health, 2011). These populations, also referred to as health priority populations, include racial/ethnic minorities, sexual minorities, the poor and rural populations, for example.

APA’s Public Interest Directorate has offices and programs that address the concerns of health disparity and other underserved communities. The Public Interest Directorate applies psychology to the fundamental problems of human welfare and social justice and the promotion of equitable and just treatment of all segments of society through education, training and public policy.

How you can learn more

The Public Interest Directorate has highlighted resources in this initiative which reflect the initiative focus on the health conditions of stress, obesity and substance abuse and addiction — selected because of their prevalence and/or impact on health within health disparity population groups, their high association with many other chronic diseases, the maturity of the knowledge base for each of these areas and APA’s and psychology’s demonstrated interest, expertise and experience in these areas.

News & Events


  • APA's Health Disparities Initiative teamed with the Smoking Cessation Leadership Center to co-sponsor "What's Smoking Got to Do with It? Improving the Health of Priority Populations by Treating Tobacco Use," a webinar featuring H. Westley Clark, MD, JD, (Santa Clara University and former director, CSAT/SAMHSA). Dr. Clark described smoking in health priority populations, including prevalence and risk factors; discussed why professionals may not attend to smoking in these populations and the consequences of not doing so; and identified effective evidence-based practices.
Health Disparities Primer Webinar

The Health Disparities Strategic Initiative held a webinar entitled, "Eliminating Health Disparities by Advancing Health Equity," (PDF, 11.8MB) on Aug. 21, 2014, presented by Brian Smedley, PhD, of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, and a member of APA's National Steering Committee on Health Disparities. Smedley is a nationally recognized expert on the history, causes and effects of health disparities in vulnerable populations.


APA Health Disparities Initiative seminar featuring Columbia University psychologist Carl Hart, PhD.

Other Events


In 1985, in response to concerns about the health status of blacks and other minority populations, "The Report of the Secretary’s Task Force on Black and Minority Health (the Heckler Report)" was released.

It documented significant disparities in the burden of illness and mortality experienced by blacks and other minority groups in the U.S. population and introduced the concept of excess deaths to illustrate how many lives could have been saved if health care were the same between groups. The report proposed a national agenda to reduce health differences through efforts to improve minority access to high quality health care, expand health promotion and education outreach, increase the number of minority health care providers and improve data collection to better report on minority health issues.

In 2000, Congress passed the Minority Health and Health Disparities Research and Education Act (Public Law 106-525) to address “the significant disparity in the overall rate of disease incidence, prevalence, morbidity, mortality or survival rates.” The Act created the National Institute on Minority Health and Health and Health Disparities at the National Institutes of Health.

In 2002, the Institute of Medicine released its congressionally requested report on disparities in health care: "Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care (Smedley, Stith, & Nelson)."


Steering Committee

Faye Belgrave, PhD

Faye Belgrave, PhD Belgrave is a professor and the director of the Center for Cultural Experiences in Prevention, department of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va. Her work is community and intervention focused and attends to aspects of culture (gender, ethnicity, age and place, etc.) to promote well-being among African-American youth and young adults. She works collaboratively with community-based agencies to identify and implement relevant programming and research. A recent project provided a culturally integrated substance abuse and sex education curriculum to students attending middle school. In another project, she implemented and evaluated a culturally-specific HIV prevention intervention for African-American females which was expanded to include a male component. In another study, she examined the role of culture and community in tobacco and other drug use among African-American youth in rural and urban communities. Additionally, her work has involved other areas of health promotion (e.g., prevention of cancer, diabetes, depression) and with other ethnic minority populations (e.g., Hispanics and Asian-Americans). Her activities and research have included collaborative work with local school systems, churches and faith based institutions, community based youth servicing agencies, local health clinics, and black colleges and universities. Her recent work has been funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and the Office on Women's Health. She is the lead author of "African American Psychology: From Africa to America" and author of "African American Girls: Reframing Perceptions and Changing Experiences." She has received the following honors: Outstanding Faculty, State Council of Higher Education in Virginia (top faculty in the state), the Dalmas A. Taylor Distinguished Contributions to Psychology, the APA Minority Fellowship Program, Lifetime Achievement Award and the Addie Jane Key Prevention Award (SAMHSA).

Elizabeth Brondolo, PhD

Elizabeth Brondolo, PhD Brondolo is a professor of psychology and director of the Social Stress and Health Research Unit at St. John's University in New York City. She received her PhD in clinical psychology from Rutgers University. Her research focuses on the study of social stressors, including workplace conflict and racial and ethnic discrimination, and their effects on health. In her studies of racism, Brondolo and her research team have conducted a series of 14 basic research projects involving over 3,000 participants of diverse ethnic groups to identify the pathways through which race-based maltreatment affects mental health and cardiovascular risk. She works collaboratively with local medical facilities and other community resources to conduct the research. The research methods including ecological momentary assessment and ambulatory blood pressure monitoring permit her to move from the "lab to the field." She is currently at work developing new interventions to reduce the health effects of racism. Brondolo is the chairperson of the Div. 38 subcommittee on health disparities and organized the APA Div. 38 website on the effects of racism on health. The mission of the committee is to strengthen the scientific foundation of research, clinical practice and policy development aimed at eliminating health disparities. To this end, the goal is to disseminate information about the state-of-the-science concerning biopsychosocial factors that contribute to health disparities.

Felipe G. Castro, PhD, MSW

Felipe G. Castro, PhD, MSW Castro is a professor and director of health psychology in the department of psychology and senior advisor to the Provost for Engaged Health Disparities Scholarship at the University of Texas at El Paso. Castro is a Hispanic health psychologist who received his doctoral degree in clinical psychology from the University of Washington and as part of his training completed a one-year internship at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute. Castro's research areas focus on multivariate model analyses of cultural factors, in the design and evaluation of prevention interventions to reduce disease risks, including the risks of type 2 diabetes and substance abuse in Hispanic populations. He has developed an Integrative Mixed Methods (qualitative-quantitative) methodology to conduct deep-structure analyses of complex cultural factors, as influences on health-related outcomes. Such cultural factors include: acculturation, family traditions, ethnic pride and resilience. His resilience research uses a "stress-coping-resilience outcomes" paradigm to examine individual differences in resilience outcomes, to understand the process of resilience and to inform the development of interventions that promote resilience in diverse clients and in various at-risk populations. Specifically, this research examines the effects of cognitive, affective and behavioral factors to inform the design of prevention and treatment interventions for substance abuse disorders, and for other lifestyle disorders including type 2 diabetes. Castro is an APA fellow and member of Divs. 27 (Community), 38 (Health), 45 (Society for the Psychological Study of Racial/Ethnic Minorities) and 50 (Addictions).

Jacquelilne S. Gray, PhD

Jacqueline S. Gray, PhD Gray is a research associate professor and the associate director of indigenous programs at the Center for Rural Health and the department of pathology at the University of North Dakota (UND) School of Medicine and Health Sciences. Gray directs the Seven Generations Center of Excellence in Native Behavioral Health and the National Indigenous Elder Justice Initiative. She works with the National Resource Center on Native American Aging, National Institute of Mental Health Outreach Partnership, Rural Psychology and Integrated Care and the UND American Indian Health Research Conference. Gray also directs the Native Research Health Team and mentors over 25 Native students on research in Indian Country.  

Gray is from Oklahoma and of Choctaw and Cherokee descent. She has worked with tribes throughout Indian Country over the past 30 years in the areas of health, education, counseling and program development.

Gray has research experience in the areas of health and mental health including suicide prevention, rural veteran health services, spirituality and health, psychometrics, and wellness and nutrition in adolescents. Her research with American Indians includes health, depression, anxiety, veteran's health services, spirituality, suicide, career counseling and nutrition.  Gray developed a rural crisis intervention program and an adolescent suicide prevention program in Oklahoma that have been adopted across the state, and began the first viable divorced parent education program in Oklahoma.  She is licensed as a professional counselor in North Dakota. Gray was part of a rural health training grant during her psychology internship at the University of Wyoming that put multidisciplinary teams in rural/frontier settings around the state.

She is currently the president of the Society of Indian Psychologists. Gray is also past-chair of Psychologists in Indian Country, a section of APA Div. 18 (Psychologists in Public Service) and secretary of section six: Native Alaskan, American Indian, and Indigenous Women of the APA Div. 35 (Psychology of Women). She is a member of the Alzheimer's Association Oversight Committee for Research and Cultural Diversity, and is part of the North Dakota Suicide Prevention Coalition. She is also a consultant for the SAMHSA Disaster Technical Assistance Center. Gray was elected to the APA Committee on Rural Health and was appointed by the APA Board of Directors to the National Steering Committee on Health Disparities. Gray received the Excellence in Training Award from the Native Research Network in 2012.

Martin Y. Iguchi, PhD

Martin Iguchi, PhD Iguchi brings many years of experience in public health to his role as dean of Georgetown University School of Nursing and Health Studies. Immediately before Georgetown, Iguchi served as chair of the Department of Community Health Sciences within the School of Public Health at the University of California at Los Angeles. He is also an adjunct behavioral scientist at the RAND Corporation, where he formerly served as the director of the Drug Policy Research Center. Iguchi has conducted extensive research on the intersections of drug addiction, drug policy, the criminal justice system, health disparities and HIV transmission. He is widely published and has held editorial roles with a number of scholarly journals, including senior editor for Addiction and member of the editorial boards for Drug and Alcohol Dependence and the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. The recipient of a master's degree and PhD in experimental psychology from Boston University, Iguchi is a fellow of the APA and a former elected member of its Board of Professional Affairs

Vickie M. Mays, PhD, MSPH

Vickie M. Mays, PhD, MSPHMays is a professor in the department of psychology in the College of Letters and Sciences, as well as a professor in the department of health services. Mays is the director of the UCLA Center on Research, Education, Training and Strategic Communication on Minority Health Disparities. She holds a PhD in clinical psychology and an MSPH in Health Services, with postdoctoral training in psychiatric epidemiology, survey research as it applies to ethnic minorities (University of Michigan) and health policy (RAND). Mays' research primarily focuses on the mental and physical health disparities affecting racial and ethnic minority populations, with a particular focus on mental health services and mental health policy. She has a long history of research and policy development in the area of contextual factors that surrounding HIV/AIDS in racial and ethnic minorities. This work ranges from looking at barriers to education and services to understanding racial-based immunological differences that may contribute to health outcome disparities. Other areas of research include looking at the role of perceived and actual discrimination on mental and physical health outcomes, particularly as these factors impact downstream disease outcomes. Her mental health research examines availability, access and quality of mental health services for racial, ethnic and sexual minorities. She is the Co-PI of the California Quality of Life Survey, a population based study of over 2,200 californians on the prevalence of mental health disorders and the contextual factors associated with those disorders. She is currently a member of the Institute of Medicine's Board on the Health of Select Populations and was appointed by Rep. Nancy Pelosi to the National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics where she previously served a term as the chair of the Subcommittee on Populations. Currently on this committee she is a member of the Subcommittees on Population as well as the Subcommittee on Privacy, Confidentiality and Security where she works on issues of population health data, community data and the use of technology and mhealth applications for accessing federal health data. There she helped develop a report on the role of data collection in the reducing health disparities associated with race, ethnicity and primary language.

James F. Sallis, PhD

James F. Sallis, PhD Sallis is a distinguished professor in the family and preventive medicine department at the University of California, San Diego. He also is director of Active Living Research, a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. His primary research interests are promoting physical activity and understanding policy and environmental influences on physical activity, nutrition and obesity. His health improvement programs have been studied and used in health care settings, schools, universities and companies. He is the author of over 500 scientific publications, on the editorial boards of several journals, and one of the world's most cited authors in the social sciences. His current focus is using research to inform policy and environmental changes that will increase physical activity and reduce childhood obesity. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, and Time Magazine identified him as an "obesity warrior."

Brian Smedley, PhD

Brian Smedley, PhD Smedley is vice president and director of the Health Policy Institute of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, D.C. In this position, Smedley oversees all of the operations of the institute, which was started in 2002 with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The institute has a dual focus: to explore disparities in health and to generate policy recommendations on longstanding health equity concerns. Formerly, Smedley was research director and co-founder of a communications, research and policy organization, The Opportunity Agenda, where he led the organization's effort to center equity in state and national health reform discussions and to build the national will to expand opportunity for all. Prior to helping launch The Opportunity Agenda, Smedley was a senior program officer in the Division of Health Sciences Policy of the Institute of Medicine (IOM), where he served as study director for the IOM reports, "In the Nation's Compelling Interest: Ensuring Diversity in the Health Care Workforce and Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care," among other reports on diversity in the health professions and minority health research policy. Smedley holds an undergraduate degree from Harvard University and a PhD in psychology from UCLA.