29 Social Determinants of Health

Rachel Zheng

How much do you as an individual control your own health? Health is not solely an individual matter; instead, it is influenced by society. Therefore, society shapes one’s health and well-being. Some groups experience inequities in health, particularly Indigenous people, people of colour, and members of the LGBTQAI2S+ community. Specific individuals, families, or groups have better or worse health as compared to others associated with marginalization along race, class, and gender lines. Think about yourself as an example. Where you grew up and how you grew up, your family, your school, and your workplace… these factors do not have a biological origin. However, they all heavily impact your health. The factors we are describing here are called “the social determinants of health.”

Social Determinants of Health
> Income and wealth distribution: class
> Early life conditions and resources
> Education
> Housing quality and security
> Food quality and security
> Employment, working conditions, and job security
> Social safety net
> Social inclusion and exclusion
> Access to and quality of healthcare
> Gender, sex, sexuality
> Racialization, immigration/citizenship status
> Infrastructure and built environment
> Civil conflict

For instance, race is not biological; instead, it is a social construct. When we notice that certain racialized groups experience higher rates of diseases such as breast cancer, metabolic disease, and cardiovascular diseases, we consider that it is not race, but racism, that explains the discrepancy.

Gender is another determinant of health. Domestic violence is a leading cause of mortality and morbidity, particularly for women and children, and it is preventable. Women’s lesser status in patriarchy affects three rights: the right to live, the right to access to healthcare, and the right to bodily autonomy.

We can also look at how class is a social determinant of health. Wealth distribution inequality results in poverty. Poverty is not only stressful due to economic, housing, and food insecurity, but it also results in greater exposure to health demoting circumstances, such as noise and substandard housing. In some neighbourhoods, termed “food deserts,” fast food chains may be easier to access than the grocery stores. Fresh food is not available or not affordable.

Social determinants of health: the preventable social inequalities that demote health for individuals and groups
Marginalization: a social process of exclusion, where the valuation of, attention to, and care for certain groups or individuals is diminished; pushing certain groups “to the margins” of a society
Food desert: neighbourhoods that lack accessible grocery stores



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Gender in Canada: A Companion Workbook Copyright © 2023 by Rachel Zheng is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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