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What are the social determinants of health?

Updated on June 28, 2017


The social determinants of health refer to conditions which people themselves in either through birth, while growing up, living or working. These forces may range from political systems, social, economic and development policies. In essence, individual and community health is partly determined by the availability of unavailability of economic and social resources, opportunities and support in homes, communities and neighborhoods. They also include access and quality of education, workplace environment, availability and quality of food, water, air and social interactions. These aspects works well in explaining why some populations in United States for instance, are vulnerable to specific health conditions while others remain health. This paper focuses on analyzing the social determinants of health and the role of healthcare professional in healthcare outcomes in the context of U.S.

Economic Factor

Economic drivers of health include such aspects as an individual’s income, education. These economic drivers have a direct impact on one’s wellbeing. In particular, if there is an improvement in this an individual’s economic aspect, it will automatically generate an improvement in health behavior and outcomes among individuals and groups of people. For instance, individuals with low or meagre income do not access nutritious food and other necessary resources. Such people also do not have proper housing, safe and proper working environment, and or appropriate walking paths, which can subsequently have a negative impact on their health. Additionally, such people may be vulnerable to life stress as well as financial problems, thus leading to such health issues as circulatory complications, weakened immunity, and blood pressure among other conditions. On the other hand, those with reasonable or good income and good employment have a high likelihood of experiencing health outcomes which do not necessarily depend on material needs, rather, the health outcomes may emanate from sources such as home and workplace demands, and the level of their decision making abilities and control at such settings. In general perspective, the level in which the level at which individuals feels that they can effectively control their circumstances is correlated to how health they are. Lack of sufficient resources, heightened exposure to stress, interaction with the community, social support, skills and knowledge contributes to unhealthy behaviors such as alcoholism, smoking, poor eating habits and low coping skills.

Cultural Factor

According to Juckett (2005) cultural factors could have both negative and positive impact on individual’s and group health. Culture refers to accepted norms and patterns of behavior among particular groups in the society. Culture is a central tenet for many groups in determining their well-being and health. Traditions, beliefs and customs all pose a significant influence for good or bad health. Culture influences the perception of individuals and or groups in regard to health, death, causes of illnesses, expression of pain and illness, treatment preferences and where to seek help. For instance, some communities believe that some diseases are caused by evil spirits and may not be aware of the existence of germs. A good example can be drawn from the communities living in rural Afghanistan who believes that tetanus is caused by adjinn or spirit which seizes infants. Such communities may refuse to be diagnosed as they believe that the cause of events may not be changed. Instead, most of the community members opt to accept the situation without seeking any redress. Some communities stigmatize certain diseases such as depression or mental illnesses. For such, seeing a psychiatrist is unreasonable and “archaic”.

Social Factor

The social factors such as housing, gender, working conditions, employment, race ethnicity, education, social inclusion or exclusion, early life among others have been found to have strong impact on health of individuals and communities. According to () the effects of social factors are significantly stronger when compared to the one related to such behaviors as alcoholism, tobacco use, physical activities or diet.

Extreme material or social living conditions leads to heightened psychological and physiological stress. Stressful experiences usually emanate from coping with situations of poor and low quality housing, low income, poor working conditions, food insecurity, discrimination based on ethnicity, religion, gender or race. Adverse stress may subsequently lead to straining of the body due to consistent biological reactions. Studies have gone on to document that consistent stress makes the body less immune to diseases while disrupting the functioning of the metabolic and hormonal systems.


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