Did you know that doctor’s visits and health care services account for only 20 percent of your health? Your health behaviors, like your diet and how much exercise you get, account for another 30 percent of your health.
The rest of your health—a full 50 percent—stems from environmental and social factors. Where you live, how much you earn, and what kind of support system you have can impact your health even more.
While doctors, hospitals, and health systems strive to provide the best care possible, it’s clear that the health of our communities relies upon reaching outside the walls of the health care system.
Five key areas have been identified as the social determinants of our health:
- Economic Stability: This encompasses not just employment status and income level, but if you can afford adequate amounts of healthy food and have a safe and healthy housing situation.
- Access to educational opportunities: These help develop skills for literate, productive, working citizens. It starts with proper access to early childhood education and ensuring your geographic location doesn’t prevent you from completing high school and exploring further education.
- Social and Community Context: A community’s health is a reflection of the social structures it rests upon. A high crime rate, low social interaction, and a discriminatory environment erode the fiber of the community, negatively affecting health and safety.
- Health and Health Care: For communities to become and remain healthy, we all need access to health care services and the resources to learn how to become healthy citizens.
- Neighborhood and Built Environment: Where we live has great impact on our health. We need access to healthy food sources, protection from crime and violence, good housing stock that doesn’t cause illness, and safe, clean water and air.
Addressing these factors outlined by the Healthy People 2020 project, which has provided science-based, 10-year national objectives for improving the health of all Americans for 30 years, is important to giving everyone the opportunity to live long, healthy lives.
More and more hospitals are joining social service groups and government or taking the lead to fight hunger and homelessness and other socioeconomic ills. By addressing social determinants of health, they are helping patients and members of their community live healthier lives.
Some hospitals and health systems are participating in a project called Accountable Health Communities Model, which is sponsored by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The goal is to find the most effective ways of connecting patients who have health-related social needs, like food insecurity, with community services that address those needs.