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What are social determinants of health?

The World Health Organization defines social determinants of health as “complex, integrated, and overlapping social structures and economic systems that include the social environment, physical environment, and health services; [the] structural and societal factors that are responsible for most health inequities. Social determinants of health are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national, and local levels, which are themselves influenced by policy choices.”

Where we live, learn, work and play has a tremendous impact on our health. While going to the doctor and receiving medical care are essential for detecting and curing illness, access to health care can only account for 10 to 15 percent of preventable deaths. Social factors such as housing, education, income and employment greatly influence the health and quality of life in neighborhoods and communities. These social factors, generally referred to as the social determinants of health, determine whether or not individuals have parks and playgrounds to exercise, supermarkets to buy fresh and affordable fruits and vegetables, job opportunities to support their families, and other resources that allow them to be healthy. While it is definitely important for us to encourage people to make healthy choices, we must remember that people can only make healthy choices if they have healthy options.

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