Recognize importance of social determinants of health

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Our health and well being is largely impacted by our life outside clinics and hospitals. Only 20% of what strongly influences our health is “healthcare.” The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation published their findings on this in 2011.

The largest factors of our health, at 40%, are social and economic, such as the circumstances of our employment, housing, transportation, food, child care, education, feeling safe in our community and experiencing discrimination when we seek services in local businesses.

Emotional support from family and friends also has an enormous influence on our physical health. These material and emotional factors have primary importance as the social determinants of health.

Thirty percent of our health status is within our own control. Tobacco, alcohol and drug use, foods high in fat and/or sugar and risky sexual activity decrease health. Exercising and monitoring health markers — weight, blood pressure, glucose level — have a positive impact on health. Even if it’s tough to change our own behavior, it is within our control.

Where we live fills out the remaining 10% of what impacts our health. Are there things in our home that make family members sick, such as pest infestations, mold or lead paint? Are nutritious foods sold in stores we can get to easily? We can change some of these factors directly and influence changes in the others.

Healthy People 2030 has named goals related to the social determinants of health. Some of the goals are:

  • Reduce the proportion of people living in poverty.
  • Increase employment in working-age people.
  • Increase the proportion of high school graduates in college the October after graduating.

Achieving these objectives in our community will positively impact our health.

Ann Cochran is the health navigation coordinator in the Dallas County Department of Public Health.

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