Doodle diagram of the social determinants of health.

Clearing up ‘social determinants of health’

Communicate Health

If you’ve worked in health communication for more than a hot second, you’ve surely seen the term “social determinants of health” — in fact, you probably see it a lot. And for good reason: Research shows that social determinants of health have a greater impact on people’s health and well-being than medical care.

You may very well think of the term as one you only use with fellow public health or health comm professionals, and we’d agree that that’s mostly been the status quo. But as we get more explicit about the role of inequitable systems in our health communication products — by naming racism (not race!) as a risk factor for disease, for example — we think that’s changing. People deserve real explanations for information we’re giving them, and sometimes that involves communicating about social determinants of health.

The problem, of course, is that “social determinants of health” is a jargon term if there ever was one. Public health folks may use it without a second thought — but for many people, the meaning isn’t at all clear. Maybe you’re even a little fuzzy on the specifics yourself. (And no shame if you are — this is a judgment-free zone, dear readers!)

The good news is that it’s very possible to describe social determinants of health in a much more helpful and less jargon-y way. Read more …