There’s a lot of talk among those who work in human services about social determinants of health. But what exactly does that term mean? What are social determinants of health and how do they impact our work at FSSA? And, most importantly, what can we do about them?

Understanding social determinants of health

In an article in The Institute of Medicine, social determinants of health are defined as conditions in the environments where we are born, live, learn, work, play, worship and age that affect our health, functioning and quality-of-life outcomes and risks.

Put simply, things like having a good job, living in a safe home, and getting a good education can have more impact on your health than whether or not you regularly go to the doctor. Because of this, ensuring that we all have an opportunity to be healthy requires more than just access to quality healthcare.

Examples of social determinants of health

Several social factors have been found to impact physical, mental and emotional well-being. Some of the most common social factors identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention include:

  • The amount and quality of a person’s education
  • Being able to get and keep a job
  • What kind of work a person does
  • Having an adequate supply of good-quality food for the entire household and being able to get more food when it runs out (food security)
  • Having access to good-quality health services
  • Living conditions, such as stable housing, public safety, clean air and water, and a built environment that allows for healthy activities
  • How much money a person earns (individual income and household income)
  • Social norms and attitudes (discrimination, racism and distrust of government)
  • Residential segregation (physical separation of races/ethnicities into different neighborhoods)
  • Adverse childhood experiences such as abuse or neglect
  • Social support
  • Language and literacy
  • Incarceration
  • Culture (general customs and beliefs of a particular group of people)
  • Access to mass media and emerging technologies (cell phones, internet and social media)

Our role at FSSA

If we can help clients address any negative factors that impact their health and well-being, we will make progress toward health equity. Factors like access to food, stable housing and education should not limit someone from reaching their full human potential.

As we interact with clients, it is critical to remember that health is more than you realize. Looking at people holistically helps us be more aware of other conditions that impact health. When a Hoosier reaches out to FSSA with one specific need, we may be able to help them address multiple needs, even if those needs aren’t originally stated. Understanding the wide range of factors that impact health internally will help us better serve others externally. With this approach to serving clients, we begin to remove barriers and positively impact health outcomes—one person at a time.

Source: The Institute of Medicine. Disparities in Health Care: Methods for Studying the Effects of Race, Ethnicity, and SES on Access, Use, and Quality of Health Care, 2002.