Figure 1: Estimates of how each of the five major determinants influence population health [5] 

According to the CDC [1], social determinants of health are economic and social conditions that influence the health of people and communities.

These conditions are shaped by the amount of money, power, and resources that people have, all of which are influenced by policy choices.

Social determinants of health affect factors that are related to health outcomes [2]. Factors related to health outcomes include:

  • How a person develops during the first few years of life (early childhood development)
  • How much education a persons obtains
  • Being able to get and keep a job
  • What kind of work a person does
  • Having food or being able to get food (food security)
  • Having access to health services and the quality of those services
  • Housing status
  • How much money a person earns
  • Discrimination and social support

Broadly speaking, determinants of health are factors that contribute to a person's current state of health.   These factors may be biological, socioeconomic, psychosocial, behavioral, or social in nature.  Scientists generally recognize five determinants of health of a population [3, 4]:

  • Genes and biology: for example, sex and age
  • Health behaviors: for example, alcohol use, injection drug use (needles), unprotected sex, and smoking
  • Social environment or social characteristics: for example, discrimination, income, and gender
  • Physical environment or total ecology: for example,  where a person lives and crowding conditions
  • Health services or medical care: for example, access to quality health care and having or not having insurance


  1. http://www.cdc.gov/socialdeterminants/FAQ.html [Accessed Feb 29, 2012] 
  2. Commission on Social Determinants of Health (CSDH), Closing the gap in a generation: health equity through action on the social determinants of health. Final report of the Commission on Social Determinants of Health. 2008, World Health Organization: Geneva.
  3. Preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organization as adopted by the International Health Conference, N.Y., 19-22 June, 1946; signed on 22 July 1946 by the representatives of 61 States (Official Records of the World Health Organization, no. 2, p. 100) and entered into force on 7 April 1948.
  4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Healthy People 2020 Draft. 2009, U.S. Government Printing Office.
  5. Tarlov, A.R., Public Policy Frameworks for Improving Population Health. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1999. 896(SOCIOECONOMIC STATUS AND HEALTH IN INDUSTRIAL NATIONS: SOCIAL, PSYCHOLOGICAL, AND BIOLOGICAL PATHWAYS): p. 281-293.

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