Clarification of the Intent of PAR-07-379 and PAR-07-380: Behavioral and Social Science Research on Understanding and Reducing Health Disparities

Notice Number: NOT-OD-08-078

Key Dates
Release Date: June 20, 2008

Issued by
Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) (

The purpose of this notice is to clarify for applicants the intent of the Program Announcements (PARs) for R01 and R21 grants in advance of the forthcoming receipt date of September 19, 2008. (See and As stated in the PARs,

“…this announcement encourages research on the causes of and solutions to the ‘health differences’ between a focus-population group and a reference-population group (e.g., African Americans vs. European Americans or the US population as a whole). By definition, health disparities refer to the health of a group in comparison to the health of other groups. Although improving the absolute level of a population group’s health is a laudable goal, it may not result in changing the group’s relative level of health: The reference population’s health might also improve, thereby maintaining or even widening the gap. The study of a single population group (in order to elucidate the circumstances that may contribute to health disparities or to test an intervention targeting a particular group) may be included under this announcement. However, the relevance to disparities must be addressed explicitly. Also of interest is research on the causes of disparities within a single population group (e.g., among African Americans).”

Many applications to the 2007 receipt date failed to address health disparities between groups but rather focused solely on the health status of a particular group. The PARs call for research on previously documented health disparities, defined in terms of socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, and/or rural (as opposed to urban) residence. The emphasis is on the health status of populations defined by these demographic variables in comparison to the larger US population or other defined populations.

The primary basic research question is the causes of differences in the health status of populations. While understanding the causes of poor health in a given population may be necessary to explaining differences in health between groups, it is probably not sufficient to be considered health disparities research for the purposes of these announcements. That is, the same cause may depress the health of both groups equally and may not be a source of one group’s having poorer health than the other.  One intent of these PARs is to stimulate research on why there are health differentials between groups.

Similarly, applied research under these PARs should be aimed at narrowing the differential between groups by targeting interventions at the causes of health disparities. Applicants should justify their proposed interventions by citing previous basic research on the causes of the health disparity.

Reviewers will take into account the adequacy of applications in terms of addressing health disparities vs. health status.


Direct inquiries regarding this notice to:

Ronald P. Abeles, Ph.D.
Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research
National Institutes of Health
Building 31C, Room B1C19
Bethesda, MD 20892-2027
Telephone: 301.496.7859
Fax: 301.435.8779

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