Social Determinants of Health

By Michel Liu | Last Updated: April 12, 2021

Image by: Lexi Wang

What are the Social Determinants of Health? 

Being healthy depends on so much more than our health insurance. Many factors like the environments in which we grow, live, work and age influence individual and community health. 


Key Takeaways

  • Factors that aren’t directly related to health care delivery are essential to promoting health.

  • There are a growing number of initiatives to address social determinants of health. 


Examples of Social Determinants of Health 

Social determinants of health, known as "SDOH," include our physical, community and economic conditions. Safe and affordable housing, good schools, stores with healthy food, toxin-free environments and more all affect our health. That means poverty, which threatens many of these factors, is detrimental to the health of individuals and communities. 

Addressing Social Determinants of Health

Healthy People 2030, which offers measurable public health objectives, has an “increased and overarching focus on SDOH” for the decade. Multi-payer federal and state initiatives now target non-medical health factors. For example, in 2017, 19 states made screenings and/or referrals for social needs mandatory in Medicaid Managed Care plans. 

On the local scale, insurers also target SDOH becausesurprise, surprise investing in holistic wellness lowers healthcare costs. Some insurers even partner with organizations outside of the healthcare sector to tackle a specific community need. For example, UPMC Health Plan teamed up with Pittsburgh’s Community Human Services to permanently house people experiencing homelessness. People who secured housing saved an average of $6,384 for yearly medical costs!


Outside the Huddle


Reviewed by Geetika Rao, MPH | Edited by Nidhi Mahagaokar, MPH  | Fact checked by Jared Dashevsky, M.Eng.