Social determinants of health describe the factors that have a significant influence on the health of people and populations such as the environment in which people live and work and individual characteristics like education, income, race, social status, and health behaviours. Click the expandable menus below to learn more about the social determinants of rural health.
The World Health Organization (WHO) describes social determinants of health as
the circumstances, in which people are born, grow up, live, work and age, and the systems put in place to deal with illness.
Social determinants of health include a range of factors that affect the health of individuals and populations. One factor is the environment people live in, which refers to their physical environment, local policies, work environment, food production, and health services. Other social determinants of health are education, income, race, social status, health behaviours, and working conditions.
Income, education levels, employment, and social status have a particularly strong influence on a person’s health. They even have a greater impact than health care and lifestyle! For example, income, education, race, and health literacy all influence how well people can access health services. They also determine the type of housing they can afford and the food they buy, which are essential components of health.
Experiences of discrimination, racism, and historical trauma are important social determinants of health for certain groups such as Indigenous Peoples, sexual and gender minorities, Black Canadians, and refugees.
Social determinants of health can contribute to health disparities or health inequalities, that is, differences in health for different population groups. A Canadian study from the Public Health Agency of Canada (2006) found that Indigenous peoples, sexual and racial/ethnic minorities, immigrants, and people living with disabilities are typically less healthy.
You find more information here on the social determinants of health and the full report on health inequalities in Canada. The website also has a set of infographics that highlight the key inequalities.