Social Determinants of Health 101 

By : Regina Taylor

  When you think of factors that affect your health, what comes to mind? Maybe you think of your diet, how much you exercise, your daily habits, the medications you take, or even your genetics. These are all important to your overall health but they don’t include major contributing factors; in fact, up to 80% of a person’s health is determined solely by social factors and the environment they live in (Nehme, 2021). Additionally, research over the last two decades has even found that a wide range of health problems can be traced back to socioeconomic causes (Braveman, 2014). 

Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) have drawn a lot of attention in healthcare recently, but what really are they? According to the CDC, SDOH are the conditions put in place where people live, learn, work and play, determining a wide range of health risks and outcomes (Social Determinants, 2021). Examples of Social Determinants of Health include neighborhood and housing quality, income, education, access to affordable healthcare, and the comfort of a tight knit social community (Social Determinants, 2021). These each have a direct impact on the ability for people to sustain healthy lifestyles and get medical treatment. This does not mean clinical medicine is not equally important in promoting healthy, balanced lifestyles, rather, this information allows us to take a step back to understand the limits of medical care so that we can fill in the gaps ourselves. 

Social Determinants of Health have become increasingly important in understanding health outcomes in the United States where, despite being ranked as one of the highest spending countries on medical care in the world, key measures of health are falling (Braveman, 2014).  Also due to the Covid-19 pandemic, social risk factors have become increasingly important when understanding why some groups are experiencing worse health outcomes than others. Poor and exploitative working conditions have placed employees at increased risk for Covid-19 exposure, such as the inability to have paid leave, or limited, even sometimes zero, health insurance coverage (Paremoer, 2021). These factors have led to a higher rate of sickness and death in especially low-income and minority populations during the pandemic (Paremoer, 2021). 

What does this mean for the way that we approach healthcare going forward? Well, it is important that we have an all-encompassing view of health when we are identifying causes and creating solutions. This means that eliminating disparities in income and education should be a primary goal in healthcare, as these are key in promoting wellbeing, especially during the pandemic. We must remember that health is clinical, but health includes one’s housing, education, and economic status. These aspects of health shouldn’t be neglected as they contribute significantly to what it means to be able to live healthy lives. 

Reference List:

Braveman, P., & Gottlieb, L. (2014). The social determinants of health: it’s time to consider the causes of the causes. Public health reports (Washington, D.C. : 1974), 129 Suppl 2(Suppl 2), 19–31. https://doi.org/10.1177/00333549141291S206

Social Determinants of Health. (2021, September 30). Retrieved October 24, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/socialdeterminants/index.htm

Nehme, D. (2021, April 22). Finding effective ways to address social determinants of Health: Health Affairs Blog. Retrieved October 24, 2021, from https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20210420.146637/full/

Paremoer, L., Nandi, S., Serag, H., & Baum, F. (2021, January 29). Covid-19 pandemic and the Social Determinants of Health. Retrieved October 30, 2021, from https://www.bmj.com/content/372/bmj.n129

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