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Social Determinants: What Does It Mean for Community Action?



What exactly are these social determinants of health? It might not be the most interesting topic to discuss with your friends and family during your next Zoom call, but the impact of this initiative could be groundbreaking, and life altering. And Community Action Agencies have been doing it for decades.

The Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) has become a popular term in public health and sociology over the last ten years. The term was initially introduced and defined in the 2010 Healthy People framework. Healthy People is a national benchmark released every ten years to set goals to improve health and wellness of Americans. The initiative began in 1979, when Surgeon General Julius Richmond issued a landmark report entitled, Healthy People: The Surgeon General’s Report on Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. This initial report focused on reducing preventable death and injury and included specific objectives to achieve national wellness and disease prevention goals for the United States by 1990, a ten-year period. The report is now updated each decade, building on the lessons of the previous ten years’ data and collective feedback since the report’s inception. Now in its 5th iteration, Healthy People 2030 continues to emphasize the importance of SDOH considerations in health promotion and disease prevention.


But what exactly does this mean? What is a social determinant? And what does it mean for us and our network’s outcomes? Simply put, social determinants are all about PLACE. And place matters, and often, matters a lot. Our health is determined by several key conditions, including:

  • Where we are born

  • Where we grow up

  • Where we age

  • Where we live

  • Where we work

Notice the common theme: it’s all about place. The right to health is intrinsically an inclusive right for all Americans, which includes not only the right to health services, but also to a wide range of things that help us live in good health - the ‘social determinants of health’. In fact, 80% of all health outcomes can be attributed to the social determinants, with only 20% of those outcomes derived from healthcare. The social determinants of health include:


  • Housing

  • Education

  • Employment

  • Social support

  • Family income

  • Our communities

  • Childhood experience

  • Access to health services

To impact the determinants of health and health inequalities, community action agencies work at the local, state, national, and even global levels, to create positive, long-term change in the social, built and natural environment of our clients and our communities.


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