Social Determinants of Health

The Social Determinants of Health (SDoH) is a framework that acknowledges that non-medical factors greatly affect health outcomes. While this concept originated long ago, the SDoH was published by the Wellesley Institute in 2011 in a concept paper, Reducing Disparities and Improving Population Health: The Role of a Vibrant Community Sector. The SDoH has been adopted and adapted by many, including  leading organizations in public health, like the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease and Control. Much has been studied and written about the framework since then, but the core idea is that the conditions in which we live, work, learn, and play have a great impact on our physical and mental health. We know that these conditions are affected and shaped by the distribution of resources, money, and power at global, national, and local levels, and they can serve as either catalysts or barriers to health and well-being.




Because inequities are created when barriers exist that prevent individuals and communities from reaching their full potential to be healthy and well, the Social Determinants of Health framework is useful for identifying and addressing health inequities. The SDoH acknowledges the interconnectedness of our physical health and community conditions in which we live, and the corresponding disparities due to a lack of health equity. As stated in the Wellesley Institute publication, SDoH can be used to engage those outside of the healthcare system—the “community sector, defined as ‘the wide range of not-for-profit organizations whose mandate is to work with and provide services to communities to meet local needs.’” The SDoH framework helps stewards know how their work fits into the larger picture of health and well-being for individuals and communities, and where to prioritize efforts to to best improve and advance equitable well-being. 


One of the most difficult things about leveraging the Social Determinants of Health to promote health equity is that in many cases barriers to well-being exist because of conditions that have persisted in the U.S. for years, if not decades. It’s challenging to reverse these long-standing conditions due to their pervasive nature and the way they are deeply embedded in society. For example, racism in the U.S. is systemic and has historically prevented people of color from having the same opportunities as their white counterparts for economic, physical, and mental health. Without health equity, vulnerable populations are at risk for disparate access to community resources and conditions that create well-being because of economic, cultural, racial, or physical characteristics (medical and non-medical factors). Importantly, improved overall population health is not necessarily a sign of increased health equity. Health equity is demonstrated through a decrease in health disparities—worse health outcomes in marginalized groups.


While the Social Determinants of Health framework has been around for decades, more recently various organizations, academic institutions, government agencies, etc. have adapted the framework to match their various organizational structures and workflows. One comparable framework Community Commons advances is often referred to as an updated version of the SDoH—the Vital Conditions for Well-Being Framework. This framework is similar to the SDoH in that the core principle is the acknowledgement that non-medical factors greatly influence our health, and the Vital Conditions framework categorizes these into Seven Vital Conditions that we all need all the time to be healthy and well.


Frameworks like the Social Determinants of Health and the Vital Conditions help advance equitable well-being by acknowledging the interconnectedness of our physical health to the community conditions in which we live, and in turn, how the differences in those conditions contribute to health disparities and highlight ways to improve health equity. The SDoH also encourages collective action and prompts work from stewards across systems and sectors to decrease barriers to conditions that lead to well-being. Adoption of a well-being framework like the SDoH or the Vital Conditions for Well-Being at scale catalyzes alignment across communities, networks, and even nationwide. Healthy People 2030—an initiative that sets broad, ambitious, national goals towards the health and well-being of all people and communities—is one example of this, as they’ve adopted the SDoH framework.


Resources & Tools


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The Science of Thriving
Story - Original
Brought to you by Community Commons
Screenshot of homepage
The Someone To Tell It To Podcast
Resource - Podcast
Brought to you by Someone To Tell It To
All In Webinar: Approaches to Collecting
Approaches to Collecting and Using Social Determinants of Health Data
Resource - Webinar
Brought to you by All In
First page of Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Health in the United States and U.S. Territories: A Pathfinder to Resources
Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Health in the United States and U.S. Territories: A Pathfinder to Resources
Resource
Brought to you by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Cover page of Understanding the Upstream Social Determinants of Health working paper
Understanding the Upstream Social Determinants of Health
Resource
Brought to you by RAND Corporation
Resources for Social Determinants of Health Indicators
Resource - Guide/handbook
Brought to you by NACCHO
Cover page of Social Determinants of Health Information Exchange Toolkit
Social Determinants of Health Information Exchange Toolkit
Resource
Brought to you by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
First page of Systems Thinking at the Georgia Health Policy Center fact sheet
Systems Thinking at the Georgia Health Policy Center
Resource - Fact Sheet
Brought to you by Georgia Health Policy Center
First page of American Indian and Alaska Native Health in the United States: A Pathfinder to Resources
American Indian and Alaska Native Health in the United States: A Pathfinder to Resources
Resource
Brought to you by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
TItle page of Asthma Disparities in America
Asthma Disparities in America
Resource - Report
First page of Asian American Health in the United States and U.S. Territories: A Pathfinder to Resources
Asian American Health in the United States and U.S. Territories: A Pathfinder to Resources
Resource
Brought to you by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
First page of The Measurement of Social Capital in America: A Reassessment journal article
The Measurement of Social Capital in America: A Reassessment
Resource - Journal Article
Brought to you by Springer
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What is Health Equity?
Resource - Website/webpage
Brought to you by CDC
PDF Cover: Social Determinants of American Indian Nutritional Health
Social Determinants of American Indian Nutritional Health
Resource - Journal Article
Brought to you by OUP
First page of Tackling Structural Racism In Health article
Tackling Structural Racism In Health
Resource - Journal Article
Brought to you by Health Affairs
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Rising Rents and Evictions Linked to Premature Death
Resource
Brought to you by The Eviction Lab
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ReThink Health Toolbox Webinar: Cultivating Belonging and Civic Muscle
Resource - Webinar
Brought to you by ReThink Health
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Social Role of the Library
Resource - Data Bank/repository
Brought to you by American Library Association
First page of Hispanic/Latino Health in the United States: A Pathfinder to Resources
Hispanic/Latino Health in the United States: A Pathfinder to Resources
Resource
Brought to you by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
First page of Black/African American Health in the United States: A Pathfinder to Resources
Black/African American Health in the United States: A Pathfinder to Resources
Resource
Brought to you by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
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Pandemic-Driven Health Policies To Address Social Needs And Health Equity
Resource - Policy Brief
Brought to you by Health Affairs
Published on 03/10/2022
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Targeted Universalism Bibliography
Resource - Data Bank/repository
Brought to you by Othering and Belonging Institute
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Action Guide for Building Socially Connected Communities
Resource - Guide/handbook
Brought to you by Foundation for Social Connection
Table of contents of Health Affairs February 2024: Housing and Health
Health Affairs February 2024: Housing and Health
Resource
Brought to you by Health Affairs
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Health Leads Roadmap
Resource - Guide/handbook
Brought to you by Health Leads
First page of AIMS: A Care Coordination Model to Improve Patient Health Outcomes
AIMS: A Care Coordination Model to Improve Patient Health Outcomes
Resource - Journal Article
Brought to you by Health Soc Work
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Bringing the Vital Conditions to Life: Basic Needs for Health and Safety
Story - Original
Brought to you by Community Commons
Published on 01/30/2020
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An Introduction to Health Equity
Story - Original
Brought to you by Community Commons
The words Welcome on a colorful board; Photo by Belinda Fewings on Unsplash
All-America City Award Finalists Stewardship in Action: El Paso, Texas
Story - Original
Brought to you by Community Commons
Published on 09/21/2020
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Commons Good Podcast: Annie Martinie and Maggie Richardson
Story - Audio
Brought to you by CI
Published on 12/13/2020
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Loneliness Is Harmful to Our Nation's Health
Story - Written
Brought to you by Springer
Published on 03/20/2019
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From 500 Cities to data for all PLACES
Story - Original
Brought to you by Community Commons
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Healthy in the Hills: Our Story
Story - Written
Brought to you by 100MHL
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Vital Conditions: Your Feedback
Story - Original
Brought to you by Community Commons
Published on 10/18/2018
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ECOR: Our SCALE Journey
Story - Written
Brought to you by 100MHL
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Hi-5: Health Impact in 5 Years
Story - Original
Brought to you by Community Commons
Published on 10/26/2017
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Bringing the Vital Conditions to Life: Lifelong Learning
Story - Original
Brought to you by Community Commons
Published on 11/01/2019
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City Life Is Too Lonely. Urban Planning Can Help.
Story - Written
Brought to you by Bloomberg L.P.
Published on 12/14/2023
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Becoming Stewards of a Better 'Well-Being Society' with Dr. Bobby Milstein
Story - Audio
Brought to you by NPR
Published on 05/22/2023
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Commons Good Podcast: Mayor Dave Kitchell
Story - Audio
Brought to you by Community Commons
Published on 02/02/2021
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Cross-Cutting Themes: Working Across the Vital Conditions
Story - Original
Brought to you by Community Commons
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An Introduction to Policy, Systems, and Environmental (PSE) Change
Story - Original
Brought to you by Community Commons
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California Bets Big on Housing in Medicaid
Story - Written
Brought to you by Tradeoffs
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Improving Racial Equity via Emergency Rental Assistance
Story - Written
Brought to you by Shelterforce
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How Do We Advance Health Equity for Asian Americans?
Story - Written
Brought to you by RWJF
Staff Pick!
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eTOD Social Impact Calculator
Tool - Data/mapping Tool
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Bridging Divides Map
Tool - Data/mapping Tool
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Literacy Gap Map
Tool - Data/mapping Tool
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COVID-19 Social Health Playbook
Tool - Toolkit/toolbox
Screen capture of the Opportunity Atlas mapping tool
The Opportunity Atlas
Tool - Data/mapping Tool

 Related Topics


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Seven Vital Conditions for Health and Well-Being

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Health Equity