The Social Determinants of Health

What are the social determinants of health?

When we talk about childhood overweight and obesity as a public health issue, you’ll hear us say, “there is no one cause nor one solution.” Many environmental factors play important roles in shaping healthy behaviors and health quality in communities. The social determinants of health are the conditions in the environments in which people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a person’s zip code is more likely to determine their health status than their genetic code. The US Office of Disease Prevention and Healthy Promotion has a good explanation of the social determinants and its Healthy People 2020 plan to address them.   

You can look at the Aetna Foundation and U.S. News & World Report’s Healthiest Communities rankings and dashboards to see how different communities measure up.  You can see Marion County’s rankings here – they are lower than the US average, across all the determinants.  

Children examining plants in a greenhouse

What is the impact?

Children in economically-challenged neighborhoods are at higher risk for childhood obesity and other health issues. In these neighborhoods, limited retail options create “food deserts” where families lack convenient access to affordable, fresh, and healthy foods. The absence or inaccessibility of adequate playgrounds, youth-serving organizations and facilities limits the number of safe places for kids and families to play and be active.  Limited transportation options and an absence of sidewalks and safe walking routes exacerbate all of these issues.

All of this is why initiatives like Jump IN for Healthy Kids are so important.  Not only are we focused on reducing childhood overweight and obesity, we address the social determinants of health that cause poor health outcomes, like food access, access to outdoor spaces, and school nutrition.  We work to change and improve environments to reduce and remove barriers that prevent people from reaching healthy outcomes.  Indeed, Jump IN’s mission is to promote policies and practices that create healthy environments where families and children have real opportunities to make healthy choices and engage in healthy behaviors. Research shows that if healthy nutrition and physical activity policies can be implemented in the places where children and families spend most of their time, their health will likely improve.

Kids playing in the snow

What can I do?

Health organizations, health departments, government leaders, schools, companies like CVS and Walgreens and myriad other health initiatives are working to address the social determinants.   For individuals, awareness is a start.  Ask yourself, “what are my social determinants of health?  Do I live in an area where housing is affordable and safe?  Do I have access to healthy, affordable food?   Do I live in an area with good education outcomes?  Plentiful transportation options?  Adequate and affordable healthcare?”   If you live in Marion County, as you can see by the US News & World reports data, the odds are that your community is lacking in at least one of those areas.  How does that affect you?   What can you do to help mitigate it or improve it for yourself or others? 

The social determinants of health impact everyone.  You can learn more from the CDC here and read about how to influence and improve the social determinants in your communities.  You can also follow on Healthy People 2020 on Twitter.   And as always, we invite you to connect with us at Jump IN on Twitter and on Facebook

Children and an adult at a rooftop urban garden