There have been misconceptions regarding an individual’s health, oversimplifying it to being based on food and physical activity. The context of people’s lives determines their health, and so blaming individuals for having poor health or crediting them for good health is inappropriate. Individuals are unlikely to be able to directly control many of the determinants of health.2 Things that go beyond the individual’s control are left out of the conversation too often. There are multiple factors that play a role in one’s health such as genetics, access to a variety of food, socioeconomic status, discrimination, sleep patterns, housing, environment, access to healthcare, trauma, stress, and social relationships to name a few.4 When providing recommendations for lifestyle changes, a provider should account for these factors.
In society, perception of what is ‘normal’ is skewed and can negate the gravity of inequality seen in health. Many health inequities experienced by communities of color, low-income individuals, and other vulnerable populations are due to the lack of appropriate distribution of social resources, rooted in a history of discrimination at the individual, institutional, and structural levels.1 Public health departments and other health programs are working towards bridging the gap in all people’s health and ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to live a safe and healthy life. The end goal is health equity. Health Equity is “when everyone has the opportunity to ‘attain their full health potential’ and no one is ‘disadvantaged from achieving this potential because of their social position or other socially determined circumstance’”.3
Determining what works for an individual and what can be changed for the betterment of their health is key for making a positive impact. Having an open conversation about the barriers in health allows us to identify true impacts for individuals and address the true problem. A growing body of research highlights the importance of upstream factors that influence health and the need for policy interventions to address those factors—in addition to clinical approaches and interventions aimed at modifying behavior.3 Simplifying health on a handful of factors needs to come to an end for the public to move forward to a brighter future.
What influences health? Public Health Institute of Western MA. https://www.publichealthwm.org/what-health-equity/what-influences-health. Published January 1, 2021. Accessed August 31, 2021.
WHO. Determinants of health. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/determinants-of-health. Published February 3, 2017. Accessed August 31, 2021.
CDC. Frequently asked questions. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/socialdeterminants/faq.html. Published December 19, 2019. Accessed August 31, 2021.
Maloney C. Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/p/CR8-lFRgG5t/. Published August 10, 2021. Accessed August 31, 2021.