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How Social Environments Impact Our Health

By Kendra Bylsma, Director of Wellness Services, AllOne Health

Some may think good health starts with a daily fitness routine or working closely with one’s healthcare provider. However, our health is formed much earlier and reinforced more regularly than you might expect.

According to principles known as “social determinants of health,” our health outcomes are determined and supported by the conditions in which we grow, live, work, learn, and socialize. This means that our health is initially formed in our homes and reinforced by our neighborhoods, social circles, schools, and workplaces.

Across different population groups, there are glaring discrepancies in the overall “health” of homes and social environments. Unfortunately, this results in glaring disparities in the health outcomes for different population groups.

The term “social determinants of health” has been gaining traction in the media due to recent events surrounding social justice. It highlights how systemic racism has contributed to the glaring disparities in health outcomes. 

Discrimination impacts health on many levels. Social structures, like quality education, safe housing, a social support network, dependable transportation, and food security contribute to positive health outcomes. When these basic needs go unmet, they increase the risk of poor health outcomes.

Chronic health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure, are nearly twice as likely to develop among minority ethnic populations. Similarly, low-income adults in the U.S. also experience higher rates of these chronic conditions than higher-income adults.

This shows that structural inequities not only impact health outcomes but also one’s ability to prevent, reverse or properly manage these lifestyle-related diseases. We see this in today’s statistics: Those with pre-existing health conditions face an increased risk of hospitalization or death from COVID-19. 

Thankfully, there are steps that organizations can take to combat the effects of these social determinants of health. While diversity and inclusion efforts should be a priority for employers, it’s also important to focus on health equity.

To impact change, look for ways to provide easy access to healthy foods at work, whether through vending machines or policies. Consider onsite wellness coaching and access to dietitians for diabetes education, nutrition coaching, and services that focus on family wellness.

Most importantly, ask your employees for feedback on how you can invest in wellness programs that are meaningful to their immediate needs. To learn more about Wellness, visit AllOneHealth.com.

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