Social Determinants of Health
A person's health is a vital part of life. Every individual desires to pursue a healthy lifestyle to the best of their ability, and also receive healthcare assistance when their health is not optimal. However, we live in a very complex society where it is nearly impossible to remain unaffected by factors around us. Unfortunately, a person's health and healthcare opportunities are often the most vulnerable to change based on various societal factors These are known as social determinants.
While the concept of social determinants is an umbrella term, social determinants of health can more specifically be broken down into two categories: intangible factors (including political, cultural, and socioeconomic constructs) and location-based conditions. Both are, to an extent, generally out of a person's control, which can make these determinants all the more unpredictable and threatening. Although social determinants vary based on the individual and their circumstances, there are 14 common social determinants that many are affected by: "income level, educational opportunities, occupation/ employment safety, gender inequality, racial segregation, food insecurity and inaccessibility of nutritious food choices, access to housing and utility services, early childhood experiences and development, social support and inclusivity, crime rates and exposure to violence, availability of transportation, neighborhood conditions and physical environment, access to safe drinking water and clean air, and recreational/leisure opportunities."
Such determinants are often very complicated and can often affect a person's health in a variety of different ways. Let's take a look at a hypothetical example of two people: Person A and Person B. Person A is born into a more privileged family, has access to nutritious food options any time they want, lives in a safe and nonviolent community, and has access to a high-level education. Conversely, Person B is born into an underprivileged family, lives in a neighborhood plagued with violence, has access to limited amounts of food, and cannot afford to attend school. Looking at the logic behind social determinants Person A is much more likely to live a life of good health and have access to better healthcare opportunities than Person B, who is most likely going to struggle when it comes to remaining healthy and receiving adequate healthcare when needed. Therefore, it is safe to say that social determinants would affect Person A in a much more positive manner than Person B, who who would be affected in a much more negative manner. Although this is simply an arbitrary example, it accurately reflects the two extremes of how many in society are affected by social determinants.
As medicine and technology have progressed and we have become a more aware society, medical professionals are recognizing the role that social determinants play in the the long-term trajectory of someone's health. However, we still have a long ways to go. In order to holistically influence healthcare for the better and the health of society as a whole, I believe it is as important to invest time in improving social determinants as well as the healthcare system itself- if not more important. A study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information reflects this very idea, declaring, "States that allocate more resources to social services than to medical expenditures have substantially improved outcomes over states that do not." In our quest to rebuild the healthcare system in order to make it more inclusive and therefore to ensure a holistically healthier population we should not neglect the prevalent role that social determinants play when it comes to health.