Four Important Social Determinants of Health

People nowadays are very concerned about their health. Health, as defined by the World Health Organization, is “an enveloping system of values regarding the physical, psychological, social and economic aspects of a person’s life that will affect the quality and longevity of that person’s life”. Various definitions have been applied for various purposes over the years. The dictionary defines health as “the ability to survive, maintain or perform an activity even in the face of great injury, illness, or danger”. It can also be equated with “being fit and fine”. This definition basically emphasizes on the need for physical and mental activities or conditions to sustain one’s health and the ability to cope up with life’s challenges.

A lot has been said about health, and a lot has been discussed and commented upon, but very little addressed the very core meaning of health as it applies to all of us. There is more to good health as compared to just being healthy. Good health is not only confined to the individual but also to society as a whole. In order to understand what exactly constitutes healthy living and the role that public health plays in our everyday lives, it is important to understand the three major social determinants of health.

The first of these social determinants is the overall health status of an individual. It is defined as his/her well-being, as indicated by his/her physical and mental capacities. The absence or presence of diseases or disability would significantly contribute to this overall health status. When talking about disability, it refers to the limitations caused by old age, illness or disease which prevent an individual from carrying out his/her normal activities.

The second important definition is the life course or lifespan of an individual. This definition takes into account the age and health at the beginning of a person’s life as well as his/her health throughout his/her life course. It is important to take into consideration the fact that human beings pass through different life courses (maturity, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, old age) before reaching a certain age and health status. When looking at public health, it is important to note that the meaning of life course has many different aspects. Some of these are the ecological or the social aspects, e.g., the development of community, the welfare state and the economy, the political aspects and the social organization and values.

The third most important social determinant of health is the general health status of an individual or society as a whole. This is primarily related to the management of the basic life resources of humans, e.g., the economy, the education system, social institutions, healthcare system and the environment. This is also related to the use of medical technology, e.g., the availability of information, the quality of health services and the medical care received by people in their communities. Managing these three determinants of public health ensures a balanced health system. It also helps in the betterment of the quality of life for all.

The fourth most influential social determinant of health is education. The healthier the population is, the healthier the nation as a whole will be. Thus, in order to attain well-being, the focus should be on ensuring that the educational level of individuals is at par with the health requirements of the country as a whole. Health snapshots can help monitor the improvement of the quality of education system by analyzing the current trends and practices of education towards health.