Improving social determinants can positively impact population health.

Improving the social determinants of health of communities is important as it will not only contribute towards improving population health but will also reduce health disparities. Although there has been a lot of effort contributed towards narrowing the gap in health for disadvantaged populations, much progress has not been made. It is important that social determinants of health are addressed as health disparities have shown to be very costly to the healthcare system. In Ontario alone, 1% of high cost healthcare users, who are typically socioeconomically disadvantaged and experience health disparities, account for 30% of our costs. Governments and healthcare organizations must work together within and outside of the healthcare system to find a solution to address these health and social disparities. “Social disparities in health exist for the onset of illness, as well as, for the severity and progression of disease” (Costa et al., 2008, p. 2). In order to delay that progression of disease, the healthcare system needs to have necessary interventions and tactics in place. Being able to identify social determinants of health and social and health disparities through the use of data and technology is the first step to addressing these  social disparities in order to prevent disease but also delay its progression through treatment.

A Task Force in the United States identified the key determinants that affect health. These determinants are (Costa et al., 2008, p. 5):

    1. neighbourbood living conditions
    2. opportunities for learning and capacity for development;
    3. employment opportunities and community development;
    4. prevailing norms, customs and processes;
    5. social cohesion, civic engagement and collective efficacy; and health promotion, disease prevention and healthcare opportunities

The Task Force found that early childhood development programs for low-income children and rental assistance programs for low socioeconomic status families offered the most evidence for improving health and social disparities. Neighbourhood infrastructure initiatives  also helped improve population health through better transportation, new schools and parks, and an established sports arena and entertainment area. Literature suggests that a person’s health depends on many different factors such as working and living conditions. “There is strong, suggestive evidence that viewing an individual as more than just a system of organs, and taking into account the social context in the delivery of healthcare services can have an important impact in improving health” (Costa et al., 2008, p. 11). Overall, healthcare systems need to view individual and population health from a more holistic view in order to provide more effective treatments to individuals and in turn helping to reduce health disparities.

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Williams, D. R., Costa, M. V., Odunlami, A. O., & Mohammed, S. A. (2008). Moving upstream: how interventions that address the social determinants of health can improve health and reduce disparities. Journal of public health management and practice: JPHMP14(Suppl), S8.