Social Determinants of Health

Dr. Jennifer Bracey

November 11, 2022

Social determinants of health are economic and social conditions that affect a person’s health. These conditions play an essential role in individual health differences. They include factors like income, education, and access to health care. Addressing these factors is vital to improving personal health and well-being. But managing them can be challenging. This article discusses some of the challenges of tackling social determinants of health.

Issues in addressing social determinants of health

Addressing social determinants of health is essential to improving health across the lifespan. For example, children of parents with lower education levels are more likely to live in unsafe neighborhoods, substandard housing, and lack recreational facilities. Environmental factors such as stress also have negative impacts on health across generations. Strengthening social systems that support the most vulnerable and marginalized populations is essential.

Although health care has traditionally been considered a key determinant, social determinants of health, economic, and environmental factors must be addressed to improve health. These social factors include educational attainment, employment, neighborhood, physical environment, and social support networks. Despite the importance of health care, studies have suggested that health behavior is the primary driver of health outcomes.

Addressing social determinants of health requires collaboration across multiple sectors and levels of government. Physicians play a central role in clinical care and are positioned to support patients facing social challenges. They can also raise awareness of the human cost of social issues and advocate for better living conditions and health systems.

The American College of Physicians recognizes that addressing social determinants of health is critical to improving health equity. The organization is developing recommendations for incorporating social determinants into the healthcare system.

Impact on health

Several social determinants of health may be more important than a person’s diet or exercise habits. According to several studies, these social factors can account for anywhere from 30 to 55 percent of the health-related outcomes of a person. Interestingly, these factors are more often affected by factors outside the health sector than those inside the health sector. It is essential to address these factors as they are crucial for improving overall health and reducing health inequities. This requires action across all industries and a holistic approach.

Social determinants of health are non-medical factors that impact a person’s health, both directly and indirectly. These include the circumstances in which a person is born, raised, worked, and lives. These factors influence people’s health outcomes in either beneficial or detrimental ways. For example, poverty has been associated with poor health.

These factors may also affect the cost of health care. Low-income patients are more likely to experience chronic illness and mental health diagnoses and spend more on health care than their higher-income counterparts. These findings suggest that the burden of disease is unequal across income groups.

Although medical care is essential for healthy living, it only contributes to a person’s health. Social determinants of health are much more critical and influence a person’s well-being. For example, socioeconomic status is one of the strongest predictors of illness and death worldwide.