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Social Determinants

Essay Topic:

Health and Wealth The statement, “people with more money live longer than those who are poor because rich people can afford better health care services” is inadequate. It leaves me to believe that income and health care are the only things that determine one’s health. An individual’s income is one of the social determinants of health that contributes to a person’s own health and has a variety of effects on an individual.

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Social determinants of health can be defined as the “economic and social conditions that influence the health of individuals, communities, and jurisdictions as a whole” (Raphael, 2004).

The knowledge of the social determinants of health has gone through a vast amount of changes in perspectives as to how society decides to define health. My experiences and readings thus far have not only expanded my understanding of health, but also the economic and social conditions affecting health. From my own personal experiences, I have seen differences between the socioeconomic classes of individuals and their ability to access healthcare. Due to the fact that I am Vietnamese, I have visited Vietnam numerous times and have seen how individuals have lived a very unhealthy lifestyle such as eating the wrong foods and lack of exercising.

Before moving to Canada, my parents lived in Vietnam and described how most individuals who were always outside on the streets were often sick and did not know how to take care of themselves because of their lack of knowledge of health. At first I believed that this was due to the lifestyle choices they made, however, studies have shown that these lifestyle choices do not go far in determining health status in contrast to the impact of the social determinants of health.

In addition to these studies, when I recently visited Vietnam, I saw that the environment they were living in reflected their income level and health status. According to Raphael (2004), “socioeconomic status and income status are powerful predictors of health as they serve as indicators of material advantage or disadvantage that accumulate over the lifespan” (75). According to Raphael (2004), “Health differences among Canadians result primarily from experiences of qualitatively different environments associated with the social determinants of health” (p. 0). Income status is one of the social determinants of health that determines the quality of life associated with working conditions, employment, food security, and education. Usually, when an individual has grown up in a poor environment with inaccessibility to healthcare, their future may already be predetermined for them. In the film “Unnatural Causes” (California Newsreel, 2008), a woman residing in District 5, named Mary Turner lives in a very poor neighbourhood with three teenage daughters and a disabled husband.

In addition to these complications, Mary also has health problems of her own that prevent her from working and making money for her family, which results in a very low income. She cannot afford healthy food because they are generally more expensive, and therefore her family eats meals that are unhealthy and inexpensive. In the film, Mary expresses the fact that “disadvantaged people are unhealthy. ” Out of the four neighbourhoods studied in the film, District 5 is the poorest; this reflects the idea that there is an unequal distribution of resources and income among the population.

As McQuaig & Brooks (2010) explains, “simply living in an unequal society puts one at greater risk of experiencing a wide range of health problems and social dysfunction” (p. 82). This simply explains that one’s health is directly proportional to their income status and overall, the resources that they do or do not have. The relationship between health and wealth should be explained in relation to the social determinants of health. As this relationship becomes clearer, as does the fact that rich people live longer because they can afford health care in comparison to less wealthy people.

References California Newsreel and Vital Pictures (2008). Unnatural Causes. United States: California Newsreel. McQuaid, L. & Brooks, N (2010). Why billionaires are bad for your health. In the Trouble with Billionaires. Toronto: Viking Canada, ISBN 9780670064199, pp. 149-169 of 272. Raphael, D. (2004). Introduction to the Social Determinants of Health. In D. Raphael (Ed. ) The Social Determinants of Health: Canadian Perspectives, Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press Inc. pp. 1-19 of 435. ISBN 1551302373