The Promise of Qualitative Research to Inform Theory to Address Health Equity

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Most public health researchers and practitioners agree that we need to accelerate our efforts to eliminate health disparities and promote health equity. The past two decades of research have provided a wealth of descriptive studies, both qualitative and quantitative, that describe the size, scale, and scope of health disparities, as well as the key determinants that affect disparities. We need, however, to shift more aggressively to action informed by this research and develop deeper understandings of how to shape multilevel interventions, influenced by theories across multiple levels of the social-ecologic framework. In this article, we discuss the promising opportunities for qualitative and health equity scholars to advance research and practice through the refinement, expansion, and application of rigorous, theoretically informed qualitative research. In particular, to advance work in the area of theory to inform health equity, we encourage researchers (a) to move toward thinking about mechanisms and theory-building and refining; (b) to explicitly incorporate theories at the social, organizational, community, and policy levels and consider how factors at these levels interact synergistically with factors at the individual and interpersonal levels; (c) consider how the social dimensions that have implications for health equity intersect and interact; and (d) develop and apply more community-engaged, assets-based, and action-oriented theories and frameworks.

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