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Social factors that impact our health

Updated: May 8, 2020

Many people believe that 'health' consists solely of our 'physical' health and well-being. Are we eating the right foods, hitting the right goals, staying free from illness?

However, our overall health actually encapsulates everything from our mental well-being through to our emotional, social, spiritual and physical fitness. Like dominoes, when any one of these factors is out of balance it can bring the whole system down...

Alongside this misconception, many people believe that we are in complete and total control of our personal health. That the individual choices we make are enough to manage the whole picture of how we feel. But this is not necessarily the case.

There are actually a number of wider social 'determinants' (or factors) that affect our health - some within our control, others outside our ability to influence. They can be broadly categorised as: individual, cultural, economic and environmental factors. We take a look at each of these below.

Individual Factors

Individual factors generally include our genetics, our behaviours and how we identify ourselves. Some examples of individual factors include: Whether we smoke, drink alcohol regularly, exercise sufficiently and whether we are genetically predisposed to certain diseases or conditions.

Individual factors also include the types of social activities we partake in -.for example, if we are risk-takers or whether we take more protective measures (BMX riding vs. watching films).

Yoga- social determinants

Cultural Factors

Cultural factors include our heritage, religious systems, family beliefs and values along with our social life. A good example of how cultural factors influence our health would be to consider the difference between traditional eastern medical practices versus traditional western medicines.

They are largely different approaches, however both work for different people depending on their culture, values and expectations around medical intervention.

Man praying- social determinants

Socioeconomic Factors

Socioeconomic factors relate to financial status, educational levels and often includes access to health services. Often if people are in a lower socioeconomic bracket or have a lower understanding of the health system, they are less likely to make contact for help or treatment.

Along with this, socioeconomic factors will also impact the types of food people eat, as there has been a proven link between poor dietary choices and lower incomes.

Attempts to provide accessible and affordable health care for all is a big focus of many governments around the world, as it is one of the most important determinants of health and therefore the strain on the health system.

organic market, social determinants

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors focus on the area around us and how it can impact our health. This includes air and water quality, hygiene and sanitation levels, weather conditions, housing and employment opportunities.

Obviously, if we are consuming dirty water or breathing in polluted air, this will be detrimental to our health. Focusing on our environment is vital for maintaining positive overall health.

Plants, social determinants

As you can see our overall health is impacted by a large number of factors. By trying to keep a balance and paying attention to the factors you can actively influence, you can make significant improvements to your overall health.

Considering the social determinants of health on a daily basis is also a great way to remind ourselves to be empathetic and compassionate to those who may be struggling, and to make conscious decisions that impact the greater good.

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