How Social Determinants Impact Health and Health Equity?

Darryl Bachmeier
Jul 24, 2019

Our surroundings and environment, where we live or work greatly impact our health. This impact can either be related to social factors like living standards, access to nutritious foods, etc., or they can be related to economic factors like income, education, and job opportunities. These external factors which affect the health of an individual are known as Social Determinants of Health (SDOH).

Some examples of SDOH include:

  • Safe housing and livelihood
  • Better childhood development
  • Health care and emergency services
  • Safety and transportation
  • Social inclusion
  • Literacy and education
  • Income and Job opportunities
  • Clean, hygienic, and secure environment
  • Access to clean water and nutritious foods
  • Access to recreational activities
  • Prevention of racism and discrimination

The social determinants can influence our health both in a positive or negative way. For example, people with low-income who are living in underprivileged areas suffer from poor health conditions compared to those who are living in flourishing areas with enough income. Similarly, people who have less access to healthy foods and grocery stores suffer from low-nutrition. Consequently, the risk of heart-diseases, obesity, or even cancer increases in such people.

Impact of SDOH on Health of Common People

Every social determinant has a potential impact on health. However, income is considered as one of the most important social determinants because it greatly impacts health outcome as well as access to other social determinants of health like education, food, transportation, housing, and other resources.

To demonstrate the impact of income level among individuals and groups, the researchers take an example of a social gradient in which the lower income levels show poor health outcomes compared to higher income levels.

Even in the first-world countries, this social gradient exists but it often gets masked due to the high levels of the health status of the overall population. Just like income, the impact of other SDOH factors can also be represented by social gradients.

How different social determinants are interconnected?

As discussed above, the income factor influences other determinants to a great extent. Similarly, other determinants can also be linked to each other. For example, education is interconnected with income, job, and health literacy. Better education can provide more access to better job opportunities and health awareness.

Similarly, employment and working conditions not only impact our health, they also provide income security and promote social inclusion.

Some determinants don’t seem linked to health directly. For example, social inclusion doesn’t seem to directly impact health. But if we look deep into the concept of social inclusion, we might find its links to an individual’s health.

Social inclusion generally refers to how people interact with each other or in their neighborhood. If we take an example of an elderly woman living alone. The only social inclusion for her might be a neighbor checking on her for personal support and health care.

Similarly, a single mother might be facing a lack of social inclusion when she faces difficulty in accessing emergency child care due to her job routine. This could affect her own health as well. This shows that social inclusion also influences the health of an individual.

How Health Organizations can address SDOH?

To promote healthy living and health equity, it’s essential to address the social determinants of health for people. Moreover, social determinants can be addressed to meet value-based health-care demands and improve the socio-economic condition of people.

In this regard, health organizations can actively take part in providing better living standards and a healthy environment for the masses. By working with community partners and initiating projects to address SDOH, they can help people in profound ways beyond traditional medical services.

The health organizations can adopt the following strategies to address social determinants of health:

Promoting health awareness

Health organizations can work together to promote health awareness among people and groups. They should arrange health programs for common people to educate them about healthy behaviors and raise awareness about health risks. This can reduce health disparities and enhance their quality of life.

Enhancing clinical care

Limited access to health facilities in rural or underprivileged areas results in poor health conditions among people. To address this issue, telehealth services can be provided to them or regular clinical sessions can be conducted for them to reduce their hospital and emergency visits.

In this regard, transportation and rideshare companies can work together with health organizations to provide medical transportation services.

Alliance with social care organizations

Health organizations can adopt strategies to screen patients and assist them with their social needs. They can work together with social care organizations and invest in heavy-budget health-promoting projects in different sectors like housing, food, water, education, and transportation.

They can work with social organizations to deliver nutritious food and take initiatives to provide clean water to the people living in poverty. This can enhance their living conditions and reduce the likelihood of chronic diseases.

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