Social determinants of health

What are the social determinants of health?

Our health depends on many things. We need to take care of our bodies -- eat well, stay active, drink moderately and not smoke. Just as important to our health is to have enough money, an education, proper housing, supportive family and friends and a clean, safe environment.

Some of these determinants are hard to change, such as a person’s genetic background. But some determinants come from the interaction between a person and the society in which they live, such as education, employment, and housing. These social determinants of health play an important role in people’s health and happiness.

The social determinants of health are fundamental to health promotion. Health promotion strategies need to address social factors, as many differences in health are socially created.

Where can you go for more information?

Health Nexus resources

The Case for prevention: Moving Upstream to Improve Health for all Ontarians

(PDF) Health Nexus 2006. To promote health so that benefits can be sustained means to move from addressing consequences of inequities to addressing their causes. This is sometimes called "moving upstream". This position paper from OPC presents a convincing case for prevention by moving upstream to improve health.

Primer to Action: Social Determinants of Health

Primer to Action: Social Determinants of Health. (PDF) Health Nexus and Ontario Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance, Toronto.
Offers concrete suggestions for change in the community, the workplace and the broader society.

The Making Connections project (2002)

The Making Connections project (2002) includes a booklet and posters on how social determinants affect health.

Other resources




Let’s Start a Conversation About Health . . . and Not Talk About Health Care at All, Sudbury & District Health Unit, 2011 
This video highlights that health is about much more than access to medical care

There is also a video user guide (PDF) available.


Population Health – The New Agenda, 2010.
Video produced in Vancouver about the multiple determinants of health and the need to work together for policy reform.




Spent: a game about homelessness - From North Carolina, this game puts you in the shoes of a single parent down to his or her last $1000. The object of the game is to make it through the month.

The Last Straw! A Board Game on the Social Determinants of Health, 2007.
Developed by Kate Rossiter & Kate Reeve, this teaching tool promotes discussion about the social determinants of health while helping players build empathy with people who are marginalized. Also available in Spanish.