In recent years, our understanding of what makes people sick—and keeps them healthy—has changed dramatically. It used to be that genetics, an individual’s health-related behaviors, and access to healthcare services were considered the most important determinants of a person’s health. Now, a slew of research shows that many factors combine to affect the health of individuals, and they have less to do with the individual person and more to do with the circumstances in which they live. Factors such as neighborhood safety, environmental quality, income, education level, and relationships with family and friends have a much greater impact on health than we previously recognized. These all-important social, economic, and environmental factors are referred to as the “social determinants of health.”
A 2010 University of Wisconsin study found that a population’s health is shaped 10% by the physical environment, 20% by access to and the quality of healthcare, 30% by health behaviors, and 40% by social and economic factors.* It should be noted that health behaviors are largely determined by the social and physical environment, adding weight to the impact of the socioeconomic and environmental factors.
HealthPATH is among several innovative initiatives at Alameda Health System to address the social determinants of health. We recognize that access to education and good jobs are absolutely critical to the overall health of individuals and communities. That’s why we’re investing $10 million over four years in the youth of Alameda County. We’re partnering closely with local schools and community organizations to offer programs that introduce young people to well-paying, fulfilling careers in the healthcare field, and helping them develop educational and life plans to achieve their career goals.
We know that if young people are motivated and feel supported, they’re more likely to finish high school, go on to college, and get a job. If that happens, the payoff will be big—not just for the young people in our programs but for the health and well-being of their families and their entire communities.
*Booske, BC, Athens JK, et al. County Health Rankings Working Paper: Different Perspective for Assigning Weights to Determinants of Health. Madison, WI. University of Wisconsin, Population Health Institute, February 2010. [PDF]