Social Determinants of Health

Leading Research in Health Equity and Social Inclusion

Social Determinants of HealthIn recent years, there has been growing attention to the idea that the health of individuals, families, and communities is shaped largely by the complex interaction of social, cultural, and environmental influences. Many scholars have persuasively argued that these ‘social determinants of health’ are equally as important, if not more so, as are biomedical factors.

Recognized as a component of one of four pillars by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the social determinants of health refer to the conditions in which people are born, grow up, live, work and age. These conditions influence a person’s opportunity to be healthy, their risk of illness, and life expectancy. Social inequities in health – the unfair and avoidable differences in health status across groups in society – are those that result from the uneven distribution of social determinants. Various charters and conventions have articulated the social determinants somewhat differently, but typically all include: Aboriginal status, education, early life, employment and working conditions, food security, gender, health care services, housing, income and its distribution, social safety net, social exclusion, unemployment and employment security (Raphael, 2009, p. 7). The social determinants of health and health inequities are amenable to change through policy and governance interventions.

Research undertaken within the Faculty of Health Sciences reflects a deep and prolonged commitment to understanding more fully how the social determinants of health interact to influence health, to the elimination of social, political, and economic inequities. This research has been supported by operating grants and larger team and network grants from the SSHRC and CIHR, as well as Status of Women Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, Citizenship & Immigration Canada, Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, and others. Particularly noteworthy, the establishment of a research chair in Rural Women’s Health and the awarding of two SSHRC Community-University Research Alliance (CURA) grants – a first in the history of SSHRC- have further enabled FHS researchers to establish extensive collaborations that have led to national and international recognition of FHS as a world leader in the field.

Areas of investigation include mental health, homelessness, health equity, rurality, gender-based violence and interpersonal trauma, structural violence, the impacts of residential schools on Aboriginal peoples in Canada, poverty, precarious employment. Research related to ability/disability, including challenges associated with hearing and communication, fit well with this domain. Our colleagues have examined sensitive topics and worked with groups that have historically been described as vulnerable or marginalized, including newcomers to Canada, sex workers, LGBTT communities, Indigenous groups, and seniors. Colleagues have also examined how our health system can be optimally responsive to marginalized groups and their needs. Research aimed at an understanding of how social justice issues are linked to health, are well-aligned with the scope of this strategic thematic priority. The methodologies that have informed the scholarship in this area are diverse, and include both qualitative and quantitative approaches, including Indigenous ways of knowing. Researchers have collaborated widely across disciplines within and beyond Western, with community stakeholders, government partners, and individuals of ‘lived experience’. Much of this work has contributed to the development of programs and policies, and social change more broadly.