Social determinants of health: the next adventure

Tonight, I participated in a poll of Ontario citizens about the government’s top priorities and achievements.  When asked to list what I thought should be key priorities for Ontario, I said ‘social determinants of health’.  The pollster (who is spending his Friday evening of the long weekend interrupting other people’s Friday evening of the long weekend trying to get a big enough sample to extrapolate the findings to a population level – poor guy!) responded by saying, ‘What?”

Fair enough.  It is a mouthful to say, and a bit of a daunting term at first glance.  What it means is that health isn’t determined solely based on biological or genetic factors.  Social factors and the conditions in which people live (income, social supports (family, peers, coworkers, neighbours), education, employment, working conditions, gender, culture and language) create health and well-being…some combinations more so than others.

I will never forget the first academic article I read about social determinants of health.  It was assigned as part of my third year research methods class I took as part of my undergraduate degree.  The article, entitled ‘Addressing the Social Determinants of Health in Canada‘, is written by Dennis Raphael, a professor who focuses his research on the ways income inequality and poverty in Canada impacts the health and well-being of Canadians.

I think the professor used it as an example of how research does not commonly result in immediately improved policies, and how government programs and policies don’t always act on good ideas that are supported by research.  What the professor didn’t know was that he was opening up my interests to include social determinants of health.  Now, social determinants of health is the frame through which I look at most social policy and health issues (as the pollster guy found out this evening), I’m headed to beautiful British Columbia to study public health – in particular, social determinants of health.

I’m sure that social determinants of health will be making into the pages of this blog more and more as I focus on public health and other things I’m learning in beautiful British Columbia.  Consider this your official social determinants cheat sheet.


4 thoughts on “Social determinants of health: the next adventure

  1. Oh by the way, while I am self-promoting — others would call it public scholarship or advocating for better public policy — readers should be aware of:

    Raphael D, ed. Social determinants of health: Canadian perspectives. 2nd ed. Toronto: Canadian Scholars Press 2009.

    Raphael, D. About Canada: Health and Illness. Halifax: Fernwood Publishers 2010

    Mikkonen J & Raphael D. Social determinants of health: The Canadian facts. York University School of Health Policy and Management 2010,

  2. Isn’t it amazing that the person who used for the very 1st time the term Social Determinants of Health – Tarlov (together with his research) – is completely ignored and forgotten.

    Those who are interested in Social Determinants of Health should start here:,%20social%20determinants%20health&f=false

    Meanwhile others use Wikipedia to change the history (like in Gorge Orwell’s “1984” Tarlov is deleted) and mainly for self-advertising, check this out:

    • While Tarlov provided the recent reintroduction of the term, a point I make in all my papers and articles, he has contributed little to this field since then. Tell me, if I do not advance my work,who will? The media? You? 🙂

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