Addressing the Social Determinants of Health

I’ve had the opportunity to work in both the health and social service fields, so my interest was piqued when I learned about the 2nd Annual Symposium on the Social Determinants of Health, sponsored by the Johns Hopkins Urban Health Institute. The agenda promised a diverse range of topics, from concrete policies and programs to research and theory on social capital, racism and poverty. And, the symposium did not disappoint.

Thirty speakers observed the importance of safe housing, education, a strong social network, access to healthy foods and quality health care to overall health outcomes. Throughout the conference, academics, practitioners, philanthropists and legislators reiterated the following points:

  • Everyone has the right to health
  • Due to socioeconomic conditions and the current policy landscape, health and health care are not equitable for all Americans
  • Inequities are entrenched in systems and policies as a result of the dominant doctrine of our society
  • It is in everyone’s best interest to ensure the quality and longevity of each other’s lives

The best presentations of the day were focused on operationalizing the research and putting into practice effective programs and policies that will help to achieve health equity.

Dr. Anthony Iton’s closing address deftly reiterated the root causes of health inequities – place, policies and narrative – and then introduced a basic package of holistic interventions that the California Endowment will invest in. The package is groundbreaking because the proposed interdisciplinary approaches seek to foster resident power and youth leadership while embracing a new narrative on health equity.

Convenings such as this one are imperative to advance dialogue between the health, education and social service fields, which can advance health equity through collective action. One end goal is the inclusion of preventative measures pertaining to the social determinants of health in federal, state and local health policies. Another is consistent and open dialogue that may serve to break down silos and inspire social service-based program directors to consider health indicators in project design and evaluation– and vice versa in the health field (with indicators pertaining to education level, recidivism, food security, employability, safety and housing).

Our next blog post will examine strategies that were discussed during the symposium. Are you familiar with promising programmatic and policy practices that address the social determinants of health? Comment below and let us know.

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I have extensive experience coordinating communications and outreach initiatives focused on health and social issues. In my current position as Project Specialist, I provide communications technical assistance to regional and federal efforts within the National Partnership for Action initiative, with support from the Office of Minority Health. I am a former Peace Corps volunteer who worked on health and social affairs projects in the Federated States of Micronesia. Read more.