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 look at how both access to education and quality of education is a social determinant of health.
Education starts young. Very young. In the womb type of young. Some parents read, sing, and talk to their children before they are even born. There are families who are able to have one or both parents actively involved in their children’s early development and education. They read, they promote learning through play, they talk and help their children develop communication skills, they nurture their children’s emotional development, they look for signs their children may need help from outside the family, and they make sure they are ready to start school. They make plans for early childhood education opportunities and good schools (public or private), emphasize the importance of graduating high school, going to college, and maybe even graduate programs. These children are more likely to grow up and be health literate and understand how to take charge of their health. They’ve learned how nutrition and physical activity affect their health because they’ve been to schools and other learning opportunities that taught quality healthful living lessons. They can comprehend, analyze, and make decisions about health care. They are more likely to have careers that provide health insurance. They had access to quality education from early on in their life and it shows in their health.
Of course, the aforementioned situation is not true for every household in American and definitely not for every household in North Carolina. It’s not that families don’t want their children to be educated and healthy. For many families, there are struggles and barriers to quality education. Limited time, financial struggles, the education level of parents, and lack of other resources are just a few barriers that many families face. These barriers start affecting children at an early age. Not all children enter Kindergarten developmentally ready. They may not have been enrolled in a preschool program or had the kind of family support they need. Some children have developmental delays early in life but they are not caught and interventions aren’t put in place. By fourth grade, many children aren’t reading on grade level and continue to fall behind and become increasingly frustrated with school. And unfortunately, there are many students who don’t graduate from high school much less go on to college. They are less likely to get jobs that provide health care and a living salary and more likely to have health issues like high blood pressure and heart disease.
The bottom line is that people with higher levels of education are more likely to be healthier and live longer. We want all North Carolinians to be able to achieve their highest level of health and we understand how important access to quality education is to a person’s health. One small step we have taken is through our Taking Charge of Your Health booklets that we have placed in Little Free Libraries in North Carolina. We know that understanding health information and available services is necessary for people to make good health choices. Nine out of ten adults struggle to understand and use health information when it is unfamiliar or complicated. Not understanding health information can make people sicker and cost them money. These booklets are a small step in helping our neighbors make good health choices.
Education starts young which means the impact of social determinants starts young. Many organizations 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.