What Are Social Determinants of Health?
Health, in the medical language, is defined as the condition of a person that creates a positive influence on his or her ability to live a productive life. According to the World Health Organization, health is “a state of total physical, mental and emotional well-being and not just the absence of sickness and disease.” A number of definitions have also been applied for various purposes over the years. In the United States, the Department of Health and Human Services defines health as having an optimum level of health and an appropriate standard of living.
The state of health is determined through the concepts of five universal factors. These factors are demographics, vital signs, access to health services and disease prevention. Factors in this definition include the existence and size of existing hospitals, community standards of living and longevity, health expectations and the prevalence of chronic illnesses or disability. Vital signs that are relevant to quality of life include the total number of births, deaths, births per capita, infant mortality and life expectancy at birth. Access to health services refers to whether a person has the knowledge and resources to obtain needed health care or assistance.
Developed countries, in particular, have a poor health status due to several factors. These factors, however, can be balanced through social interventions. According to a recent study, social factors have the greatest effect on overall health. In developing countries, family income and social status have the greatest impact on the occurrence and severity of illness. In these settings, prevention of illness is more likely due to the prevalent norms regarding physical and mental health.
A number of environmental factors can also lead to an increase in the likelihood of an individual contracting a disease or illness. Environmental factors refer to the activities that take place in an individual’s environment or habitat. These activities include physical activity, cleanliness and hygiene, food preparation and consumption, exposure to toxins, air quality, household physical environment, work and school. These activities are controlled by legislation and strict policies. In some instances, these policies are inadequate, leading to inadequate awareness of safe health practices.
Emotional and mental health are also influenced by the physical environment. Emotional health encompasses aspects related to well-being including self-esteem, motivation, mood, optimism and stress management. Mental health is associated with cognitive processes such as thought, language and memory. The relationship between environmental factors and good health may be influenced by genetics, early life experiences and nutrition. Environment also impacts the physical health of an individual through the ability of an individual to appropriately respond to stimulation and pain. This ability is referred to as physiological fitness.
It is important to note that the association between social determinants and population health is not fully understood. However, these factors are likely to play a significant role. Health research should continue to identify and test new methods for identifying and dealing with social factors which can affect an individual behavior and their overall health.