When thinking about health, some of the first aspects that come to mind are access to healthcare and the availability of medical supplies. These are in fact, just two of several social determinants of health. Social determinants of health are defined as “socio-economic conditions that shape the health of individuals, communities, and jurisdictions as a whole.”

What makes Canadians sick infographic.

Although the environment (i.e. air quality), biology (genetics), and access to healthcare play important roles in health, the infographic above shows that for many Canadians, simple aspects of their day-to-day lives play just as large a role in their health as those three previous factors combined. The infographic above, published by the Canadian Medical Association on Health Care Transformation, places several social determinants of health under the "your life" category, including housing and homelessness, Aboriginal status and the availability of safe and nutritious food.  An individual or family’s status as being homeless or living in an emergency housing situation is directly related to their health and susceptibility to illnesses.

In Social Determinants of Health: The Canadian Facts, Dr. Dennis Raphael and Dr. Juha Mikkonen discuss how living conditions, such as homelessness or precarious housing, play a significant role in one’s health - “Homeless people experience a much greater rate of a wide range of physical and mental health problems than the general population. Likelihood of early death among homeless people is 8-10 times greater than the general population.”

It is important to remember that interplay is often present between social determinants of health, and these interactions can exacerbate existing problems.  Consider interactions that exist between some of the social determinants under the “your life” category, such as Aboriginal status, housing and homelessness and nutrition. Aboriginal populations (particularly youth, gender minorities, and urban groups) are overrepresented in the Canadian homeless population. In 2006, the Census found that over 30% of Inuit peoples were living in overcrowded households. This rate was ten times greater than that of the non-Aboriginal population. Aboriginal Peoples are also more likely to lack access to adequate nutrition.

Food security is an important indicator of health across all population groups and ages. Forty-one percent of food bank clients are children under 18. Lack of proper nutrition can have a devastating impact on youth as they mature and develop mentally and physically.

As the field of public health grows and research in the field expands, social determinants of health are becoming an increasingly important metric in studying the wide range of factors that affect health and cause sickness.

Vineeth SekharanResearch AssistantYork University; Canadian Observatory on Homelessness/Homeless Hub