It is believed that everything that happens has a medical or behavioural lifestyle associated to it. In the western world we believe that advancement in medicine is the one and only way to go but little do we know that there are other factors that affect the health of a population. First immigrating to Canada in my younger days I believed that everything here is perfect in terms of achieving the necessities of life such as shelter. Upon attending university and pursuing a degree in health studies I began to realize that there are other factors that determines the health of an individual. These include the kind of childhood one experiences, kind of activities one engage in, income, among others. These are known as the Social Determinants of Health (SDOH).
According to Raphael (2009), social determinants of health (SDOH) are the primary determinants of health which represent all the economic and social factors that influence the health of citizens of a nation. These include aboriginal status, early life, education, employment and working conditions, housing, and income among others. The question that one would ask is “how do theses affect my health”? For example income is a primary determinant of health because it plays a major role in how the other determinants of health are met.
Income has a major role to play on a person’s kind of early life, activities, food choices, education among others available for one to experience and choose from. Inadequate income results in poverty which in tends leads to material deprivation, stress and unhealthy behaviours such as, use of street drugs (cocaine, marijuana, weed) smoking cigarette’s and drinking etc. Without adequate income an individual’s lifestyle tend to be choices that are bad for one's health. This continues in the life time of an individual and can lead to severe health outcomes such as metabolic syndrome (Raphael et al, 2003). Also without adequate income, one is not able to provide the basic needs such as shelter and food for their family. This results in high level of negative stress which causes bad hormones to be released into the blood stream. The body counters by releasing cortisol which if not used by the body and as a result could lead to health problems such as diabetes and other adverse health outcomes. This demonstrates that income is a major determinant of health and there is adverse health outcomes associated with having less or none at all. Based on this and others, income is a primary determinant of health because it dictates the kind of life and health experienced from childhood into adulthood. Furthermore, income also determines ones’ level in the social structure and whether they experience positive or negative health outcomes. With adequate income one would mostly experience positive health events such as long life expectancy, less experience with chronic illness among others. If a person has inadequate income, it means they are lower in the social structure and as such experiences adverse health outcomes such as low birth weight, low life expectancy, developmental problems among others.
There are some adverse health outcomes that occur as a result of being on the lower part of the income ladder. For example lower-income children are at greater risks of injury, have lower birth weights, low functional health like delayed vocabulary development, among others compared to children from high income families. Adults in lower income are more likely to have a short life expectancy, great risk of getting chronic illness like diabetes and heart attacks, among others when they are also compared to high income earners (Auger & Alix, 2009)
The average person does not know much about the SDOH because there is no attention paid to it by the government and the media. The media plays an important role when it comes to educating and creating perceptions of the public. Ads and programs run through the media always attribute health to the behavioural lifestyle of individuals. Lack of knowledge on the SDOH leads the population to accept what the government, the media and organizations attribute to health problems. Therefore if you have read this article to this point you have taken first step into improving SDOH. Next we have to educate people including family and friends on the determinants of health and how it affects health. This would allow citizens to gain more knowledge on these determinants.
Auger, N. & Alix, C. Income, income distribution, and health in Canada. In D. Raphael (Ed.), Social determinants of health 2nd ed. (pages 61-73). Toronto: Canadian scholars’ press Inc.
Raphael, D. (2009). Social determinate of health: an overview of key issues and themes. In D. Raphael (Ed.), Social determinants of health 2nd ed. (pages 2-17). Toronto: Canadian scholars’ press Inc.
Raphael, D., Anstice, S., Raine, K., McGannon, K. R., Rizvi, K. S., & Yu, V. (2003). The social determinants of the incidence and management of type 2 diabetes mellitus: are we prepared to rethink our questions and redirect our research activities? International