Social Determinants of Health
Health inequities focus more specifically on those inequalities that are based on differential access to power and resources. Therefore, health inequities refer to systematic differences in health status among individuals who have access to different amounts of social resources – such as money, power, or prestige (Braveman & Gruskin, 2003). These differences may be related to the community you live in, your age, your racial or ethnic heritage, your gender, whether you have a disability, your sexual orientation and your socioeconomic status.
For example, people who live in higher income neighborhoods tend to enjoy better health and longer lives than people in lower income neighborhoods. This difference may reflect differential access to resources or exposure to negative environmental factors.
In trying to help individuals improve their health, health practitioners often provide medical services or recommend behavioral changes. These strategies have helped to create improvements in health status. However, in order to attain health equity, practitioners must also consider the social and environmental factors that affect health. This requires a comprehensive approach that targets change at multiple levels, including individuals, organizations and communities.
What are social determinants of health?
Social determinants are resources that are necessary to maintain health. Health inequities occur when those social determinants are distributed differentially across communities or groups. Communities have been defined or characterized in a number of ways including groups of individuals who live in a particular geographic area, who have some level of social interaction, who share a sense of belonging and/or a sense of shared political and social responsibilities. Each community has its own set of unique structures and norms that govern interaction. Any one individual may be part of many overlapping communities; each of which may have different access to social resources. Thus, individuals living in a community that is economically depressed may have less access to healthy food options and medical care than individuals living in another area regardless of the individual’s personal or family income.
Assessing social determinants of health inequities
Once you have a “working definition” of community, you can begin to talk about the perceived health inequities and the reasons for these inequities. The following questions may help you to think about the social determinants of health inequities in your community:
After developing a list of these determinants, work with your partners to decide on the most important issues to address first. Consider the following in your discussion of priorities:
Next, you and your partners can consider strategies that will enable you to create change in your community. Several strategies are available to choose from and you and your partners will have to decide what makes the most sense for your intervention and community. In addition to building community capacity, the following strategies may be useful:
You should now consider the populations most affected by your priority health issues and select the priority population(s) for your intervention.
Continue to Identifying Your Priority Population >>
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