The Social Determinants of Health: What Are They?

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In optimizing the health and wellness of the U.S. population, individual health outcomes have been the gauge for payers and providers to determine the overall influence and impact their organizations are having on care. There are many different organizations, agencies, and programs working to influence these outcomes, but one factor that has been traditionally underrecognized is the Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) and how they positively or negatively impact population health and wellness.

As defined by the CDC, SDOH are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live and age. These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power, and resources at global, national, and local levels. SDOH are mostly responsible for health inequities–the unfair and avoidable differences in health status seen within and between countries- and can be responsible for up to 80% of a health outcome.

There are five key areas of SDOH that are important to consider:

  • Health care access and quality: the connection between people’s access to and understanding of health services and their own health. This includes access to health care, health insurance coverage and health literacy.
  • Education access and quality: the connection of education to health and wellbeing. This includes graduating from high school, enrollment in higher education, educational attainment, language and literacy, and early childhood education.
  • Social and community context: the connection between characteristics of the contexts within which people live, learn, work, and play, and their health and wellbeing. This includes cohesion within a community, civic participation, discrimination, conditions in the workplace, and incarceration.
  • Economic stability: the connection between the financial resources people have (income, cost of living, and socioeconomic status) and their health. This includes issues such as poverty, employment, food security, and housing stability.
  • Neighborhood and built environment: the connection between where a person lives (housing, neighborhood, and environment) and their health and wellbeing. This includes quality of housing, access to transportation, availability of healthy foods, air and water quality, and neighborhood crime and violence.

By applying what we know about SDOH, we can not only improve individual and population health, but also advance health equity for all.

How can you or your organization help address these elements of SDOH and improve the overall quality of care in your community? In our next blog, we will specifically address the programs and initiatives that are working to achieve better health outcomes through SDOH, and how providers like you can help support this work.

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