Social Determinants of Health
Our income, the condition of our home—assuming we have one—and how safe we feel there, whether we’re employed and what our workplace is like all have a powerful effect on our health. So does our level of education, whether we experience discrimination because of gender or ethnicity, and the quality of our communities. We call these influences social determinants of health. They shape our health in part by limiting or supporting the choices we make. More importantly, they affect our chances for good health apart from our choices.
I’m part of a team of people at Alberta Health Services that looks at how we can positively change the social determinants of health to ensure every Albertan has a better chance of being and staying healthy. In Alberta, those in the wealthiest communities outlive those in the poorest communities by about eight years. The gap can’t be explained by differences in behaviour or healthcare services alone: social determinants of health are at play. Improving them––for example, bettering living and working conditions, income, prospects for the healthy growth and development of children—can narrow this gap.
Positively influencing the social determinants of health is a big job and often comes down to public policy. Shaping public policy is a responsibility shared by government, communities, organizations, businesses, and groups of individuals. It takes a tremendous amount of understanding, communicating, determination and commitment.
AHS also plays a role. We devote considerable time and energy to developing relationships with community and government partners that have a stake in a healthier population. Our passion for health may begin with healthcare but it extends well beyond that.
By working together, we can find ways to improve health and quality of life. Many solutions are sure to be from outside the health system, and some may be unconventional. They may improve income or employment prospects for Albertans living in poverty, or protect the natural environment. Others may foster social inclusion and political participation or expand educational opportunities.
The people behind these solutions will be health heroes as much as those who save lives on the front lines of healthcare. The challenge and opportunity is to make Albertans active allies in the cause of better health—along with better healthcare—for all Albertans.