Scroll down to listen to this article.
It was the best of me, it was the worst of me. There are two versions of your dear author: the one who loves cookies, pizza, and video games and the one who loves surfing, cycling, and roasted vegetables. In a stroke of complete luck, I live at the beach where exercise and healthy living are trendy and encouraged. That wasn’t always the case, however. When I was younger, I went to college in Indiana. There was no beach, I had no bike, everyone had a computer, and my meal plan included unlimited pizza. Unsurprisingly, these two versions of myself have very different health outcomes. One lifestyle is associated with heart attacks, diabetes, and obesity, while the other isn’t. Which version makes it through to the end isn’t just determined by self-discipline and genetics but heavily by the community you are in.
Things that contribute to your health outcomes are called determinants of health. These include your genetics, behavior, and medical care, but also the physical place you spend time and social factors. The determinants of health aren’t insulated; they interact and influence each other. That last one is properly termed Social Determinants of Health (SDOH). These are the daily interactions with people and the area around you, but also the bigger systems that influence these interactions. Examples of the social determinants of health include:
- Availability of quality food
- National economic stability
- Housing quality
- Access to healthcare
It was easy to see these social determinants at work during the pandemic. The “Quarantine 15” was a real phenomenon where somewhere around 48% of people in America gained weight. People were stressed, jobs and income were unstable, healthcare access was limited, exercise options dropped, and – importantly – many of us lost our community connections. Luckily, with the pandemic calming down, we are presented with opportunities to shore up our social determinants of health.
With the pandemic as a reference, we can see that social determinants of health are subject to very big forces. To improve the social determinants of health in our area, we would ideally look at inequality, structural biases, macroeconomic conditions, and government policy. On the personal level, the most productive changes we can make (other than moving halfway across the country) are at the community level. This includes your family, friends, neighbors, and people you interact with and share common ground with, such as those in a book club or church. From a healthcare perspective, “community” determines who you talk to when sick, who checks in on you, who cooks food when you have a newborn, who takes you to the doctor when you can’t drive, and so on.
Luckily, your community can expand. When you join a clinical trial at one of our ENCORE Research Group sites, you don’t just gain access to cutting-edge research, you gain a community that is committed to health. We partner with other groups, perform community outreach, and write extremely well-written, clever, and funny articles for your inbox weekly. On top of this, when enrolled in a clinical trial, we need to monitor your health and stay in touch. We look for what will help your specific situation and if you miss an appointment we reach out to make sure you are ok. ENCORE stands for Encouraging COmmunity Research and Education, it’s right there in our name!
Staff Writer / Editor Benton Lowey-Ball, BS, BFA
With contributions from Stacey Lowey-Ball, BA Anthropology
Listen to the article here:
Khubchandani, J., Price, J. H., Sharma, S., Wiblishauser, M. J., & Webb, F. J. (2022). COVID-19 pandemic and weight gain in American adults: A nationwide population-based study. Diabetes & Metabolic Syndrome: Clinical Research & Reviews, 16(1), 102392. https://doi.org/10.1016%2Fj.dsx.2022.102392
Artiga, S., & Hinton, E. (2018). Beyond health care: the role of social determinants in promoting health and health equity. Kaiser Family Foundation, 10. https://www.kff.org/racial-equity-and-health-policy/issue-brief/beyond-health-care-the-role-of-social-determinants-in-promoting-health-and-health-equity/
Baciu, A., Negussie, Y., Geller, A., Weinstein, J. N., & National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2017). The Role of Communities in Promoting Health Equity. In Communities in Action: Pathways to Health Equity. National Academies Press (US). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK425849/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (8 December, 2022). Social determinants of health at CDC. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. https://www.cdc.gov/about/sdoh/index.html