Health Disparities and Social Determinants of Health

What Are Health Disparities?

Health disparities are differences in overall health or unequal burden of disease and/or health outcomes between populations that are attributable to social, political, economic, and environmental factors.

What are social determinants of health, social risk factors, and social needs?

Social Determinants of Health (SDOH), Social Risk Factors, and Social Needs are all separate concepts that often are conflated. All three contribute to health disparities, and addressing all three is critical to advancing health equity.

1) Social Determinants of Health (SDOH)

SDOH 1When Talking About Social Determinants, Precision Matters are the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age, as well as the wider set of forces and systems shaping the conditions of daily life, including economic policies and systems, development agendas, social norms, social policies, and political systems.
Economic Stability
  • Employment
  • Income
  • Expenses
  • Debt
  • Medical Bills
  • Support
Neighborhood and Physical Environment
  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Safety
  • Parks
  • Playgrounds
  • Walkability
  • Zip Code/Geography
  • Literacy
  • Language
  • Early Childhood Education
  • Vocational Training
  • Higher Education
  • Hunger
  • Access to Healthy Options
Community and Social Context
  • Social Integration
  • Support Systems
  • Community Engagement
  • Discrimination
  • Stress
Health Care System
  • Health Coverage
  • Provider Availability
  • Provider Linguistic and Cultural Competency
  • Quality of Care
Health Outcomes
Mortality, Morbidity, Life Expectancy, Health Care Expenditures, Health Status, Functional Limitations

2) Social Risk Factors:

Social risk factors2When Talking About Social Determinants, Precision Matters are defined as the adverse social conditions associated with poor health, such as food insecurity and housing instability.

3) Social Needs:

This refers to the individual material resources and psychosocial circumstances required for long-term physical and mental health and well-being. Material circumstances describe physical living and working conditions and include factors such as housing, food, water, air, sanitation. Psychosocial circumstances include stressors such as negative life events, stressful living circumstances, and (lack of) social support.3Resources for SDH

Why SDOH, Social Risk Factors and Social Needs are Important to Health Disparities and Health Equity.

Without addressing these “social” factors, health disparities will continue to persist. Health care does not exist in a vacuum. Differences in the overall health of individuals and communities are influenced by many factors outside of our health system walls, including SDOH, social risk factors, and social needs, and thus differences in overall health or burdens of disease cannot be improved by only addressing the quality or quantity of health care individuals receive.

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What you can do

Learn about the factors that influence patients’ health outside of health system walls.

Help connect patients to people who can provide resources to help with social needs, including social workers, care managers and clinical resource coordinators.

Advocate for and support equitable economic and social policies and systems and development agendas.

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