5 Social Determinants Of Health That Impact Your Wellbeing

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There are myriad factors that determine your overall health and well-being.

Some of these are under your control, fueled by the choices you make to lead a healthier lifestyle.

You can choose to eschew cigarettes, for example, and other bad habits that may compromise your health. And you can get your lazy ass off the couch, exercise more and meditate for greater peace of mind.

But there are some factors that you simply can’t control. And these play an important role in securing your long-term physical and mental health.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists five social determinants of health that impact every other rung on the ladder you climb towards optimal wellness.

Some of these rungs are missing from the ladder completely, presenting obstacles as you ascend to those brilliant heights of good health.

In this week’s article, we’ll explore each of these social determinants of health and understand how they can affect your personal wellbeing in the long run.


man holding cash

1. Economic Stability

They say that money can’t buy love, but it can certainly afford you the Black-American-Express-Card of healthcare: a plan so baller that no medical receptionist would dare disparage.

Economic stability is one of the major social determinants of health that can have adverse (if you have few) or beneficial (if you have plenty) effects on your wellbeing.

In this category, where you were born matters, especially in developing world countries where one-fifth of the world’s population lives below the poverty line and on less than $1.90 a day. 

To make matters worse, COVID-19 now threatens to push another 88 to 115 million people into extreme poverty.1

The thought of economic instability, A) makes my asshole clench tighter than a sailor’s knot (an automatic, fear-based reaction), and B) brings me back to those days in college when I feasted on instant ramen noodles (because I couldn’t afford a decent meal), each with exorbitant levels of MSG and cholesterol to boot.

But are economically stable folks just as fallible? After all, they can afford the countless filet mignons that can lead to some serious cardiovascular clusterfucks.

Perhaps we should all opt for salmon entrees once in a while. Or better yet, go vegan? (Your arteries will thank you.)

girl in cap and gown holding book

2. Education Access & Quality

Many of these social determinants of health have a symbiotic relationship with one another. That’s to say, your level of education can greatly impact your economic stability and vice versa.

Regarding economic stability, to afford that “superior” Ivy League education, you (or your caregivers) will need to cough up some serious cash.

But it’s not only about what swanky school you’re able to get into.

According to Health.gov, “children from low-income families, children with disabilities, and children who routinely experience forms of social discrimination — like bullying —  are more likely to struggle with math and reading. They’re also less likely to graduate from high school or go to college. This means they’re less likely to get safe, high-paying jobs and more likely to have health problems like heart disease, diabetes, and depression.”

In essence, it doesn’t matter whether you go to the best or the worst of schools — neither scenario will spare you from the assholery of bullies (except perhaps an older sibling who could bitch-slap those bullies on your behalf.)

nurse in white uniform with stethoscope

3. Healthcare Access & Quality

I’m shocked by the cumulative years that I was either not covered by a robust healthcare plan, or was covered but limited to shitty care because of my “lowly” health insurance plan.

After plugging in the numbers (accounting for over three decades’ worth of eligible time), I enjoyed a mere seven years of subpar healthcare.

By subpar, I mean the dreaded three letters of medical insurance: H. M. O.

Whenever I spoke to the receptionist at a new doctor’s office, I was legitimately embarrassed to confirm whether my plan was PPO or, you know, that other one.

I longed for the reactions that PPO plans elicited from the last receptionist: a gleam in her eyes followed by cheeks flushed hot with blood as if her long-lost love had suddenly walked in through the doors.

By contrast, HMO plans were the Red-Headed Stepchild of the family, the one with the punchable face; or a bird whose wings were clipped for no good reason other than the sadistic desire to impede its flight.

red, yellow & blue high-rise buildings

4. Neighborhood & Built Environment

Asbestos. Black Mold. Rowdy neighbors. Clouds of marijuana smoke drifting through the vents of the HVAC system in your apartment.

No one feels these unfortunate events as acutely as “Healthnut Harriet,” for instance, who’s had a string of bad luck in the Social Determinants of Health department.

What Harriet wants is the quiet enjoyment of her premises.

What Harriet gets, however, are crickets from her property manager, who hasn’t replied (and probably won’t) to any of the several complaints she’s sent by email (including her grave concerns over secondhand marijuana smoke.)

If only she could take control of the situation, rid herself of these nuisances and force the property manager to get down on his knees and beg her forgiveness, then life would be a mother-effing dream.

But, no.

Those damn social determinants of health keep hurling some bad juju her way.

These overwhelming circumstances make you wonder, How am I expected to thrive when the social determinants of health in my life are conspiring against me?

friends forming human chain

5. Social & Community Context

Well, I’ll tell you how, dear reader.

I saved this Social & Community Context section for last because, despite its potential to fuck you over, it also has the potential to override the negative effects caused by the other four social determinants of health.

This one, for instance, can keep Healthnut Harriet sane as she struggles with her apartment issues. It could also lift that red-headed stepchild from obscurity.

According to Health.gov, social determinants of health “can have a negative impact on health and safety throughout life. [But] positive relationships at home, at work, and in the community can help reduce these negative impacts.”

The key to counteracting these negative effects on your overall health is to build harmony in the areas of your life that could use a little more TLC.

These tips for developing positive relationships can help you fill in those missing rungs from the ladder you climb each day on your way to optimal health and happiness.

Furthermore, this article from Healthypeople.gov describes in greater detail the social context of health. From there, you can formulate a tailored approach towards better health that fits your unique lifestyle.

Finally, given the unruly nature of social determinants of health — how they’re oftentimes beyond your control — it’s important to “keep calm & carry on” whenever anxiety creeps into your mind.

Focus on the aspects of your life that you can control, dear reader, and you’ll find that the sky’s the limit, because nothing and no one can clip your wings.

  1. Peer, A. (2020, Oct 16.) Global Poverty: Facts, FAQs, and how to help. World Vision. https://www.worldvision.org/sponsorship-news-stories/global-poverty-facts#:~:text=1.3%20billion%20people%20in%20107,children%20are%20experiencing%20multidimensional%20poverty.
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