Social determinants of health

Where you live, work, learn and play can have a profound impact on your health.

The places where people live, work, learn and play have a profound effect on their health. The conditions of those places are referred to as the social determinants of health. For example, imagine a child growing up in a neighborhood where crime is the norm. It’s unsafe for her to play outdoors and to walk to school. The school she attends has limited resources to support her learning. Her opportunities and overall life experience are much more limited than those of a child who grows up in a safe neighborhood with a thriving school.

Social determinants of health associate resources and accesses to those resources for all people - children and adults. Poverty limits their ability to access healthy foods, transportation, healthcare and employment opportunities. Research shows that differences in health are apparent between communities with poor social determinants of health and those that experience stable housing, adequate income, safe neighborhoods and quality education. The World Health Organization (WHO) also recognizes that governmental policies contribute to social determinants of health.

These governmental policies have the possibilities to improve social relationships, their sense of security and well-being that are affected by where people live. Imagine having poorer health simply as a result of your address. Location of a person’s home is then compounded by things like culture, education level, literacy, and social supports. The discrimination or racism individuals experience also play a major role.  

As an educational organization, Michigan State University Extension is concerned about what can be done to address social determinants of health. “Social and physical environments that promote good health for all” is an overarching goal of Healthy People 2020.

Five key determinants have been identified:
  1. Economic stability
  2. Education
  3. Social and community context
  4. Health and health care
  5. Neighborhood and built environment

Strategies have been identified and tools and resources are emerging that are being used to address social determinants of health in these five areas. For example, health impact assessments are being used to review social policies and their impact on health. Another strategy is to apply “health in all policies,” meaning that improved health for all citizens and closing health gaps should be addressed at all levels of government.

The Social Determinants of Health Unit of WHO also works to support, guide and strengthen the capcities of countries to develop, implement, monitor, and evaluate initiatives to promote health equity to address these issues in all neighborhoods throughout the U.S and the world.

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