When we think of staying healthy, the first things that comes to mind may be visiting the doctor regularly, taking medication as necessary, or engaging in a healthy lifestyle.
But our health is also largely determined by factors like what we eat, where we live and local resources available to us. These factors are called “social determinants of health,” which the World Health Organization defines as “the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age.”
Social determinants of health are environmental and societal factors that can directly and indirectly impact health. There are six categories of social determinants of health:
- Economic stability − The connection between a person’s finances and their health. This includes socioeconomic status, housing stability, employment and more.
- Neighborhood and physical environment − The relationship between where a person lives and their health. This includes factors like neighborhood safety, access to affordable housing, air and water quality, and more.
- Education − The link between health and education. This includes literacy level, access to higher education, early childhood development and more.
- Food – The connection between what we eat and our health. This includes factors like access to healthy foods, nutritional education and more.
- Community and social context – The connection between our health and the communities in which we live, work and play. This includes acceptance within a community, civic involvement, discrimination and more.
- Healthcare system – The link between access to and understanding of health care and health. This includes factors such as access to care, access to health insurance, health literacy and more.
Each of these pillars can have a significant impact on an individual’s and community’s physical and mental health outcomes.
For example, a person who is unemployed has a 30% higher mortality risk than someone who is employed. Living in poverty as a black man has a 2.6x higher mortality rate; living as a woman in poverty has a 1.8x higher mortality rate. Better social integration improves chance of survival by 50%.
Addressing social determinants of health has the potential to improve quality of life for all groups and improve health equity.
Efforts to improve health outcomes have traditionally been focused on medical interventions, but healthcare systems are now increasingly recognizing the critical role addressing social determinants of health plays in overcoming health disparities and improving health care outcomes for all groups.
For example, some health care organizations are now recording data related to social determinants of health, implementing new programs to support at risk groups, and more. Learn more about social determinants of health and what steps Priority Health is taking to address them in Michigan communities here.