What Are the Social Determinants of Health? And why are they important to recognise?
As a human, the quality of your health is influenced by the choices you make and the routines you keep. The decisions you make on whether you maintain a healthy diet, exercise regularly, practice meditation, smoke, or drink alcohol will have a direct impact on the state of your mental and physical health. Secondary to these choices, widespread evidence has recognised a strong connection between living conditions, working conditions, and their respective health outcomes. In what’s recognised as the social determinants of health (SDH), an individual’s health is sensitive to the social environment in which it lives, learns, works, and plays.
What are the social determinants of health?
Defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO), “The social determinants of health (SDH) are the non-medical factors that influence health outcomes. They are the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age, and the wider set of forces and systems shaping the conditions of daily life. These forces and systems include economic policies and systems, development agendas, social norms, social policies, and political systems”.
Key social determinants of health include:
- Income and social protection
- Employment and job security
- Food security
- Housing, basic amenities and residential environment
- Early life circumstances
- Social inclusion and non-discrimination
- Structural conflict
- Access to affordable healthcare of decent quality
Think about the factors that impact how easily an individual can access healthcare, education, employment, transportation, a safe place to live, and nutritious food. These are prime examples of social determinants of health that can strengthen or compromise individual and community health.
Why is it important to recognise the social determinants of health?
For the Australian population, variations of health follow a social gradient. Typical of a gradient-type model, what’s good for one segment isn’t necessarily good for another, meaning health and illness are not distributed equally. While higher socioeconomic positioning aligns with a greater state of health, lower socioeconomic positioning aligns with a lower state of health.
In 2016, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found people in lower socioeconomic communities were:
- 6 times as likely to have at least two chronic health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes
- Likely to live about 3 years less than those living in the highest socioeconomic areas
- 6 times as likely to use cannabis if unemployed
- 4 times as likely to use meth/amphetamines if unemployed
- Spending proportionally less on medical and health care than other households
- 30% more likely to have a low birthweight baby
- Twice as likely to delay seeing a dental professional
In 2005, the World Health Organisation established the Commission on Social Determinants of Health (CSDH) to support countries in addressing factors leading to health inequalities. The three recommendations that were made were to improve daily living conditions, tackle inequitable distribution of power, money and resources, and measure and understand the problem and assess the impact of action.
This blog is designed to be informative and educational. It is not intended to provide specific medical advice or replace advice from your medical practitioner.