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Health Equity

What factors influence our health?

Health is influenced by many factors, called determinants of health. These include personal characteristics such as sex and genetics, as well as the economic, social and physical environments where we live, learn, work and play. They are called determinants of health because they can determine the health issues that a person may face and/or the resources and choices available to them as they try to be and stay healthy.

What are the social determinants of health?

Biological, behavioural and genetic factors aren’t the only things that influence our health. The social determinants of health (SDOH) are the social and economic factors that influence the health of a population. These include:
  • Gender/gender identity
  • Race/racialization
  • Ethnicity
  • Colonization
  • Migrant and refugee experiences
  • Religion
  • Culture
  • Discrimination/social exclusion/social inclusion
  • Education/literacy
  • Health literacy
  • Occupation/working conditions
  • Income/income security
  • Employment/job security
  • Early life experiences (child development)
  • Disability
  • Nutrition/food security
  • Housing/housing security
  • Natural and built environments
  • Social safety net / social protection
  • Access to health services
  • Geography
These social determinants of health are not equally distributed in our society. Differences in access to the social determinants of health means that some people or groups have greater risk of poor health.

What is health equity?

Health equity exists when everyone has a fair chance to reach their best health. This means that everyone has equal access or opportunity to the social determinants of health.

Health inequities are differences in health experienced by people that are systemic or socially produced, and therefore can be changed. These differences are considered unfair or unjust. Priority populations are those groups at increased risk of negative health outcomes because of health inequities.

For example, in Toronto, men in the lowest income group are 50% more likely to die before the age of 75 than men in the highest income group. Women in the lowest income group are 85% more likely to have diabetes than women in the highest income group (Toronto Public Health, 2015).

“Health equity means that all people can reach their full health potential and should not be disadvantaged from attaining it because of their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, age, social class, socioeconomic status or other socially determined circumstance.” (National Collaborating Centre for Determinants of Health, 2013).