University of Wisconsin–Madison
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How does economic and social disadvantage affect health?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as not just the absence of disease, but rather in the broad sense of physical, economic, emotional, and social well-being at an individual, family, and community level. Health is thus affected not only by individual risk factors and behaviors, but also by a range of economic and social conditions. These social determinants of health—the circumstances in which people are born, grow up, live, work, and age—are shaped by a variety of economic, social, and political policies and forces. These policies and forces—what the WHO describes as the social determinants of health inequities—in turn determine access to life chances and opportunities for health based on social markers of advantage and disadvantage such as race and ethnicity, class, and gender. In this article I explore some of the mechanisms through which social determinants affect health (and life) outcomes, and describe some policy approaches to improving health by addressing socioeconomic disadvantage.

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Early Childhood Care & Education, Education & Training, Employment, Employment General, Health, Homelessness, Housing, Incarceration, Justice System, Mental Health & Substance Abuse, Social Determinants of Health

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