National Health Council Outlines Social Determinants of Health Priorities

By Jennifer Dexter, Director, Policy

The National Health Council (NHC) provided a response to the request for information from the newly formed Congressional Caucus for Social Determinants of Health. Social determinants of health (SDOH) are conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks. The caucus asked a series of questions about what is needed to ensure people have access to social supports.

Our response was informed by our health equity working group on SDOH, which will soon be published as report on our health equity, diversity, and inclusion issue page on the NHC website.

The SDOH issues we identified that most greatly impact the health of people with chronic diseases and disabilities include:

  • Being uninsured or underinsured
  • Access to affordable and accessible transportation options to access health care, social services, and the community
  • Food insecurity
  • Social isolation
  • Affordable and accessible housing options

Ensuring efforts to address social determinants of health are inclusive of people with chronic diseases and disabilities is critical. For instance, housing assistance efforts need to include accessible housing options and should be well connected to health services; increasing the accessibility and availability of public transportation; and addressing food insecurity recognizes the need for specialized diets, cultural preferences, and people’s varying abilities to prepare meals.

People with chronic diseases and disabilities have been disproportionately impacted by changes in our communities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well. While some changes may be positive because of the shift to virtual environments, others have negatively affected the health and well-being of patients.

Financial security is an example of a social determinant of health that has changed for patients because of COVID-19’s impact on the economy. Due to the financial impacts of living with a chronic disease or disability, many patients experience more difficulties from losing a job or significantly increased costs of living. This financial insecurity can also result in more people with chronic diseases and disabilities facing food or housing insecurity.

For more information about this and other aspects of the NHC’s health equity initiative, click here.