Social Determinants of Health

in an earlier video we described how personal health information may be used for health research in this video we look at how and why researchers may link medical information with other information like where you live your income and your education an understanding of how these non-medical factors affect people's health can help us to look beyond the health care system for ways to improve the health of Canadians these non-medical factors are called the social determinants of health let's take a closer look at these social determinants and how they can influence your health and well-being we commonly think that our health is affected by our age gender and genetic factors that we inherit from our parents most people realize that our health is also affected by lifestyle factors like how much we exercise what food we eat and unhealthy habits such as smoking and excessive drinking however these factors are only a small part of what affects our health other factors include our social relationships with their friends and within our community our income our education and our working conditions so how do these social factors influence our health let's look at heart disease for example heart disease affects the heart and blood vessels in Canada one person dies every 7 minutes because of heart disease or stroke many studies have focused on individual risk factors such as high cholesterol unhealthy food choices and an inactive lifestyle but let's dig a little deeper by looking at food choices specifically several things influence what we decide to eat including how much money we can afford to spend on food a hamburger from a fast-food restaurant is less expensive but much less nutritious than fresh foods like fruit and vegetables how much money we spend on food maybe limited by our income which in turn is influenced by many other social determinants like our education this means that individuals in low paying jobs are at a higher risk of heart disease our eating habits are also shaped by our family during early life and reinforced by our friends later on these habits may be difficult to break let's take another example unemployment or poor working conditions create unstable life situations and cause stress to the individual stress has negative effects on health increasing the risk of heart disease causing poor sleep patterns and weakening your immune system so what determines income or employment one major factor is education more education generally leads to a better chance of employment and higher paying jobs both of which have a good influence on our physical health however even if you are employed some workplace conditions such as lack of flexibility and control over your workday and short contract work can cause stress to the individual as you can see many complex social processes and other factors are connected with one another to affect our health studying how these factors work together in large populations is a challenge for researchers and that is what we would like to look at next in an earlier video we discussed how your health information may be drawn together in research data centers to analyze healthcare utilization and your health in the same way information about income education and various other social determinants of Canadians health may be drawn together and linked with health information in these data centers researchers get the information from several sources like surveys carried out by Statistics Canada and administrative records kept by the public school system Social Services and the justice system this information about people's income education employment and other social factors is just as sensitive as their health information may be even more sensitive therefore the researcher must get the approval of a research ethics board before the holder of this information will release it to the researcher Statistics Canada collects and analyzes this kind of information and its employees are bound to strict laws that include severe penalties for any breach of confidentiality these records are usually stripped of any identifiable information such as name or age before being released sometimes information is provided only about groups or neighborhood averages before it is handed to researchers let's look at an example of how a researcher may use information about income and race to examine a health related issue several years ago researchers compared the amount of heart disease among people with different income levels they found that heart disease decreased steadily as income level increased when these same researchers compared the records of European people with Aboriginal people they found that heart disease was more common among Aboriginal people in each income category similarly across all income categories risk factors for heart disease were higher among Aboriginal people they were affected by additional factors other than income such as higher obesity rates higher tobacco use and other risk factors the authors of the report proposed tobacco reduction programs regular physical exercise programs in schools and communities and changes in diet for Aboriginal people in the lower-income categories heart disease is only one of the many health concerns that are related to various social determinants of health similar relations have been found between these social factors and a variety of illnesses including adult onset diabetes and immune system disease personal information for health research and planning of services and programs has been used for improving the healthcare system and for public health purposes this type of research often links health information with non-medical information like income education and where you live this information is important for understanding disease patterns across geographical areas and among specific disadvantaged communities so we can implement ways to improve Canadians health for example through employment laws and through programs to provide income assistance Social Services and safe and affordable housing for those in need of these services the healthcare we receive is only one small part of what maintains our health research into the social determinants of health can teach us more about ways we can improve the health and well-being of Canadians that go beyond the health care system


  1. It is very great and useful. I would like to ask for your permission to share this with my students to get more ideas about social determinants of health. Thank you.

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