Economic Stability: A Social Determinant of Health Category

Please note: this post isn’t intended to be a scholarly research article. Instead, it’s intended to be easy to read, mildly informative, and hopefully a bit thought-provoking. We hope you read it, think about it, and then check out some of the links at the end to discover more.

Social determinants of health are the factors in a person’s life (apart from medical care) that affect their health and well being. They fall into five categories: economic stability, education access and quality, healthcare access and quality, neighborhood and built environment, and social and community context. If you missed it, you can read our Brief Overview of the Social Determinants of Health here

In this blog post we are going to take a deeper dive into the economic stability category. A person’s income, their cost of living, their socioeconomic status, housing stability, and food security all play a role in their health. It is estimated that in 2021, 1 in 7 people in the United States lives in poverty. To put that into perspective, a family of 4 making less than $27,000 a year would be considered living in poverty. That isn’t a lot of money when you have to pay for housing, transportation, health care, food, utilities, and clothing. Something has to go and health doesn’t come cheap.  

There are assistance programs for housing for low-income families but families are still expected to pay a percentage of the rent depending on the type of housing they qualify for. There are often waiting lists for low-income housing and many families find themselves in unstable housing situations before they can make it to the top of the list. Housing instability is extremely stressful and taxing on a person’s health. Sleep is essential for a healthy body and when you don’t know where you’re going to lay your head at night, sleep is hard to come by. 

Let’s talk about food insecurity. Even if a family receives SNAP benefits to help supplement their grocery bill, it typically isn’t enough. The average SNAP benefits a family of 4 receives is $477 a month. That’s only about $1.33 per person per meal. That doesn’t go far when you’re feeding 4 people. Choices have to be made and many times healthy choices are cost prohibitive. We know that diet plays a huge role in health and especially in the health of children. 

These issues don’t just affect people living below the poverty line. Your income and economic status directly affect the quality and quantity of food you can purchase for your family, the quality of housing you can afford, the quality of childcare you can afford, the ability to prioritize physical activity by joining a gym, the ability to pay for clothing and equipment to focus on physical fitness, the ability to prioritize mental health, and the list goes on and on.

Ready for some good news? There are organizations that understand that social determinants of health contribute to health disparities and they are taking action instead of just encouraging people to make healthy choices. The US Department of Health and Human Services aims to improve health and well-being over the next decade with their Healthy People 2030 objectives. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is also focused on Healthy Opportunities and is working to make sure all North Carolinians have the opportunity for health. NCAH is also working to advance policies that will ensure that every North Carolinian has the opportunity to attain their highest level of health. We have many amazing partners, members, and allies who are advancing health equity and responding to health disparities. You can join in the discussion and learn more about what is happening across the state and how you can help.