There are many factors that influence our health. These are called determinants of health. One kind of determinant of health is what is in our genes and our biology. Another determinant is our individual behavior. This could include whether we smoke, exercise, or eat a balanced diet. Many people assume that their health is a result of their genes, their behaviors, and how often they get sick or go to the doctor. But it’s not just how you live that determines how healthy you are. Social and physical environments have a big impact on our health, too. These are called social determinants of health.
Path to improved health
Social determinants of health are the conditions that we live, learn, work, and play in. These conditions can influence the health and well being of you and your community. They can include things like your education level, your exposure to violence, the way your community is designed, and if you have access to health care. These factors affect your ability to take part in healthy behaviors, and this affects your health.
Here are some examples of major social factors that can influence your health.
Your education level can have an effect on how healthy you are. Education gives you the tools you need to make good decisions about your health. People with more education are more likely to live longer. They are more likely to participate in healthy activities like exercising and seeing their doctor regularly. They are less likely to participate in unhealthy activities, such as smoking. Education also tends to lead to higher-paying jobs. These often come with benefits, such as health insurance, healthier working conditions, and the opportunity to make connections with other people. All of these things add up to better health.
The amount of money you make has an effect on your health. People with higher incomes tend to be healthier and live longer than people with low incomes. They are more likely to live in safe neighborhoods. They have more access to grocery stores and healthy foods. They usually have more access to safe spaces for exercise or other activities. People with low incomes are more likely to live in a community of poverty. They are more likely to face situations that can lead to poor health. These can include unsafe housing, more challenges in getting healthy food, and less time for exercise or physical activity. Having a lower income also affects your ability to have affordable health insurance. This can affect how often, if ever, you go to the doctor. This can have a direct effect on your health.
Where you live has a significant impact on your health. People who are continually exposed to poor living conditions have a higher risk of developing health problems. Conditions such as pests, mold, structural problems, and toxins in the home can all affect your health. It is important that your home is safe and free from hazards like these. Housing can contribute to your health when it provides you with a safe place to be.
Neighborhood conditions are an important part of housing, and can also affect your health. A neighborhood that is free from violence, crime, and pollution gives children and adults a safe place for physical activity. A home that is close to grocery stores makes it easier for families to buy and eat healthy foods. A thriving neighborhood also offers employment, transportation, and good schools. Being surrounded by all of these things helps you live a healthier life.
Access to health care
How easy it is for you to access health care is a big determinant of your health. If you have health insurance, you are more likely to visit your doctor on a regular basis. These trips can include screenings and preventive care that keep you from developing chronic disease. But not everyone has access to health insurance or easy access to care. Some people don’t have transportation to go to the doctor. Some can’t afford it, while others speak a different language. All of these things can prevent them from getting health care they need. Not being able to get health care can have a huge impact on your health.
Things to consider
Above are just a few of the social determinants of health that can affect your health and well being. There are many others. They include:
- Access to nutritious foods.
- Access to clean water and working utilities (electricity, sanitation, heating, and cooling).
- Early childhood social and physical environments, including childcare.
- Ethnicity and culture.
- Family and other social support.
- Language and other communication capabilities.
- Occupation and job security.
- Sexual identification.
- Social status (how integrated or isolated you are from others).
- Social stressors, such as exposure to violence.
- Socioeconomic status.
- Spiritual/religious values.
Any and all of these factors play into your health on a daily basis. It is important to understand how these things affect your health so you can take steps to improve them, and improve your health.
Questions to ask your doctor
- What are social determinants of health?
- How do these factors affect my health?
- What can I do to improve a given factor in my life so that my health improves?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.