In 2005, the World Health Organization (WHO) established a group to address the social factors that lead to poor health and well-being. The WHO defines social determinants of health as “the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age.” They concluded that social determinants of health are mostly responsible for health differences in health status seen within and between countries.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines social determinants of health (SDH) as the “conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, and play that affect a wide range of health and quality-of life-risks and outcomes.”

The factors that influence the conditions of an individual’s or community’s environment are complex and fluid. For simplicity, SDH is divided into five categories: Health & Healthcare, Education, Social & Community Context, Economic Stability, and Neighborhood & Built Environment.

  Social Determinants of Health. A KidsMates Graphic. Data source:

Both structural and individual factors influence SDH. Structural influences occur at an institutional level (including government, healthcare, education, and other institutions) and impact communities. Examples of structural influences include government programs for food assistance and housing, and school zones. Individual influences reflect the personal beliefs and backgrounds that affect relationships between people. Some examples include the interactions between doctor and patient, student and teacher, police officer and citizen, or salesperson and client. 

Negative influences on SDH permeate through the environments where people live, work, and play and lead to poor health and well-being. However, positive influences on SDH can also lead to improvements in these same outcomes. 

Understanding how different conditions can impact SDH provides a framework for developing targeted interventions aimed at improving the long-term health and well-being of individuals and communities. 

Social Determinants of Health. A KidsMates Graphic. Data source:

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