Why experts say we must broaden our definition of health | Open

Jennifer E. Engen

Many Americans view health as a product of the medical care they receive. However, public health experts say that’s just one piece of the puzzle.

“In reality, our health is shaped more by the zip code we live in than the doctor we see. In fact, where we live, our financial circumstances, our access to affordable, nutritious foods, and other non-medical factors overwhelmingly influence our physical and mental health,” says Dr. Shantanu Agrawal, chief health officer, Anthem Inc.

These factors that Dr. Agrawal refers to are known as “social drivers of health” (SDoH), and they determine up to 80 percent of our health outcomes, according to Robert Wood Johnson Foundation research.

As part of “What’s Driving Our Health,” Anthem’s campaign to start a national conversation around whole health, the healthcare company recently conducted a study to learn more about Americans’ perceptions of what health really means. Here are some of the study’s top findings:

• While 46 percent of Americans are unaware of the concept of social drivers of health, once given the definition, 60 percent agree that their local community is facing at least some health issues related to them.

• Americans of color are disproportionately affected by the consequences of SDoH. While 58 percent of white respondents report that their local community is facing at least some health issues related to SDoH, 69 percent of Hispanic and Latino respondents report the same, as do 68 percent of Asian respondents and 68 percent of Black/African American respondents.

• Poor nutrition can contribute to a range of chronic health conditions, and 50 percent of those surveyed say it is hard to find affordable, healthy food in their local community.

• Though 70 percent of Americans live near at least one hospital or medical center, one in five say that lack of transportation has kept them from medical appointments. What’s more, nearly one-third struggle with access to health services and care.

• Internet access not only determines whether one is able to use important health services such as telemedicine, it deeply impacts educational outcomes and access to economic opportunities, including employment. Yet, only 39 percent of Americans believe it significantly impacts their health.

• Some additional factors that can drive health outcomes in the short and long term include access to green spaces, educational opportunities, economic stability and living in a safe community.

Where to Start

More than 80 percent of those surveyed believe that healthcare entities, local government, private citizens and employers share responsibility to address the many social drivers of health. While these issues are complex and no one entity can fully address all the social drivers alone, here is what you can do today:

1. Connect the dots. Visit WhatsDrivingOurHealth.com to read the full report and learn more about whole health and its drivers.

2. Spread the word. Share what you’ve learned about the ways social drivers affect you and your community and follow the conversation on social media using #DrivingOurHealth.

3. Join the conversation. Understanding is the first step in making positive change. Engage with friends, family, and community members about the many ways to address health-related social needs in your community.

“The sooner we broaden our definition of health, the sooner we can address the many factors that affect people’s ability to thrive,” says Dr. Agrawal.


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