Social Determinants of Health

A new Health Affairs brief outlines five major categories of health determinants: genetics, behavior, social circumstances, environmental and physical influences and medical care. Even with all the money spent in the United States on health care, some populations are not receiving the care they need because of these determinants.

Resources like nutrition coaching, better housing and job training can both increase a person’s quality of life and put him on a path of managing health more effectively. As we learn more about the social determinants of health, doctors are increasingly offering non-medicinal “prescriptions” to help address them.

Recently we’ve seen journalists writing about the social determinants of health, also known as, the “giant problem American health care ignores.” ACHP member plans are developing programs to address this problem and proactively combat disease.

  • Capital District Physicians’ Health Plan (CDPHP) in Albany, N.Y., has joined forces with the Capital District YMCA and Hannaford Supermarkets to help members of the community learn about health care and improve their fitness and eating habits. This free service is located inside a major grocery store close to bus routes, businesses and residential areas. Programs include a 30-minute fitness class for seniors, the “Weigh 2 Be” program to help participants develop a plan for lasting weight loss, classes on clinical conditions and ideas for healthy recipes. The program also provides a representative to answer any questions about health insurance.
  • Independent Health in Buffalo has created a nutrition benefit for their members who have enrolled in the program. For every $2 spent on fresh produce, members receive $1 toward a quarterly rewards card that can be used to purchase groceries. Programs like these provide incentives for participants to make a habit of eating more healthfully.
  • HealthPartners in Minnesota has launched PowerUp, a program that works to curb obesity, and in turn diabetes, in the community. By partnering with schools, food retailers and after-school programs, HealthPartners was able to expand the reach of care to populations in lower socioeconomic conditions. The program encourages healthy eating and increased physical activity in children and families and includes a PowerUp School Challenge and open gym nights for the whole family.

How are you playing an active role in your community to better influence healthy decisions and options?

– Alex Orton