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Researching the Social Determinants of Health

What are the Social Determinants of Health?

Social determinants of health (SDOH) are the wide-ranging conditions that can affect health outcomes and quality of life. Some examples of SDOH include:

Circular chart showing the five components of the social determinants of health.

 

 

  • Safe housing, transportation, and neighborhoods
  • Racism, discrimination, and violence
  • Education, job opportunities, and income
  • Access to nutritious foods and physical activity opportunities
  • Polluted air and water
  • Language and literacy skills

 

In the United States, 1 in 10 people live in poverty, and many people can’t afford things like healthy foods, health care, and housing. Healthy People 2030 focuses on helping more people achieve economic stability.

People with steady employment are less likely to live in poverty and more likely to be healthy, but many people have trouble finding and keeping a job. People with disabilities, injuries, or conditions like arthritis may be especially limited in their ability to work. In addition, many people with steady work still don’t earn enough to afford the things they need to stay healthy.

Employment programs, career counseling, and high-quality child care opportunities can help more people find and keep jobs. In addition, policies to help people pay for food, housing, health care, and education can reduce poverty and improve health and well-being.

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People with higher levels of education are more likely to be healthier and live longer. Healthy People 2030 focuses on providing high-quality educational opportunities for children and adolescents — and on helping them do well in school.

Children from low-income families, children with disabilities, and children who routinely experience forms of social discrimination — like bullying — are more likely to struggle with math and reading. They’re also less likely to graduate from high school or go to college. This means they’re less likely to get safe, high-paying jobs and more likely to have health problems like heart disease, diabetes, and depression.

In addition, some children live in places with poorly performing schools, and many families can’t afford to send their children to college. The stress of living in poverty can also affect children’s brain development, making it harder for them to do well in school. Interventions to help children and adolescents do well in school and help families pay for college can have long-term health benefits.

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Many people in the United States don’t get the health care services they need. Healthy People 2030 focuses on improving health by helping people get timely, high-quality health care services.

About 1 in 10 people in the United States don’t have health insurance. People without insurance are less likely to have a primary care provider, and they may not be able to afford the health care services and medications they need. Strategies to increase insurance coverage rates are critical for making sure more people get important health care services, like preventive care and treatment for chronic illnesses.

Sometimes people don’t get recommended health care services, like cancer screenings, because they don’t have a primary care provider. Other times, it’s because they live too far away from health care providers who offer them. Interventions to increase access to health care professionals and improve communication — in person or remotely — can help more people get the care they need.

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The neighborhoods people live in have a major impact on their health and well-being.1 Healthy People 2030 focuses on improving health and safety in the places where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age.

Many people in the United States live in neighborhoods with high rates of violence, unsafe air or water, and other health and safety risks. Racial/ethnic minorities and people with low incomes are more likely to live in places with these risks. In addition, some people are exposed to things at work that can harm their health, like secondhand smoke or loud noises.

Interventions and policy changes at the local, state, and federal level can help reduce these health and safety risks and promote health. For example, providing opportunities for people to walk and bike in their communities — like by adding sidewalks and bike lanes — can increase safety and help improve health and quality of life.

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People’s relationships and interactions with family, friends, co-workers, and community members can have a major impact on their health and well-being. Healthy People 2030 focuses on helping people get the social support they need in the places where they are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age.

Many people face challenges and dangers they can’t control — like unsafe neighborhoods, discrimination, or trouble affording the things they need. This can have a negative impact on health and safety throughout life.

Positive relationships at home, at work, and in the community can help reduce these negative impacts. But some people — like children whose parents are in jail and adolescents who are bullied — often don’t get support from loved ones or others. Interventions to help people get the social and community support they need are critical for improving health and well-being.

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References

Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Healthy People 2030. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved May 16, 2024, from https://health.gov/healthypeople/objectives-and-data/social-determinants-health

Much of the content in this guide was copied or adapted from the University of Kentucky Libraries, Searching Health Disparities Literatureunder a CC-BY 4.0 license.

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