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Research reports often cite socioeconomic status as an underlying factor in the pervasive disparities in health observed for racial/ethnic minority populations. However, often little information or consideration is given to the social history and prevailing social climate that is responsible for racial/ethnic socioeconomic disparities, namely, the role of racism/racial discrimination. Much of the epidemiologic research on health disparities has focused on the relationship between demographic/clinical characteristics and health outcomes in main-effects multivariate models. This approach, however, does not examine the relationship between covariate levels and the processes that create them. It is important to understand the synergistic nature of these relationships to fully understand the impact they have on health status. PURPOSE: A review of the literature was conducted on the role that discrimination in education, housing, employment, the judicial system and the healthcare system plays in the origination, maintenance and perpetuation of racial/ethnic health disparities to serve as background information for funding Program Announcement, PA-05-006, The Effect of Racial/ Ethnic Discrimination/Bias on Healthcare Delivery (http:// grants.nih.gov/grants/ guide/pa-files/PA-05-006.html). The effect of targeted marketing of harmful products and environmental justice are also discussed as they relate to racial/ethnic disparities in health. CONCLUSION: Racial/ethnic disparities in health are the result of a combination of social factors that influence exposure to risk factors, health behavior and access to and receipt of appropriate care. Addressing these disparities will require a system that promotes equity and mandates accountability both in the social environment and within health delivery systems.