How various aspects of your life are directly linked to your health status
What it means to achieve “health and well-being” can be elusive, and there is often not an agreed-upon definition. However, there are some things that those in the health care field do have consensus about, and that is “health” typically refers to the physical body being free from diseases, and “wellness” is an overall balance of your physical, social, spiritual, emotional, intellectual, environmental and occupational well-being. Today, we are shifting how we look at and approach health.
To help you begin to make this shift as well, let’s start with an activity. (Warning: There are lots of questions.)
First, think about where you live.
- Do you have safe, permanent housing?
- Do you have clean air and safe drinking water?
- Are there sidewalks, trails, green space or playgrounds in your neighborhood?
- How far is the nearest grocery store with affordable groceries, including fresh fruits and vegetables?
- Do you have access to transportation with reasonable costs?
- Is there a lot of crime where you live?
Next, let’s consider other resources at your disposal.
- Do you have quality schools in your community?
- Does your job training or education give you access to employment opportunities that allow you to sufficiently support yourself and/or family?
- Can you access safe, quality, affordable and convenient child care?
- Do you have health insurance? If so, is it affordable, and does it help meet your medical needs?
Finally, let’s think about your social context.
- Are you confronted with racism, sexism or another “ism”?
- Do you have people you can rely on, and vice versa?
- Does a language barrier interfere with your ability to have meaningful interactions in your community?
- Do you feel like you have a sense of belonging in your community?
Take inventory of your responses; we will come back to those.
So here is where the shift occurs. The actual medical services individuals receive for their health account for about 15-20 percent of their overall health status. The other 80-85 percent is attributable to the questions above, which are known as “social determinants of health.” That means how healthy you are is directly related to the social and environmental aspects of your life.
Here are a few examples of what the intersection of health and social determinates looks like.
- If you have diabetes, but you are homeless and unable to store your insulin in a refrigerator, your homelessness will have a negative impact on your physical health.
- If you are sick and need to see a doctor, but you don’t have accessible transportation to get the doctor’s office, this can negatively impact your health.
- If your neighborhood is unsafe, you might be afraid to take walks for exercise or let your kids go out and play. That puts your family at risk for obesity.
According to HealthyPeople.gov’s Healthy People 2020 report:
“Health starts in our homes, schools, workplaces, neighborhoods, and communities….eating well, staying active, not smoking, getting the recommended immunizations and screening tests, and seeing a doctor when we are sick all influence our health. Our health is also determined in part by access to social and economic opportunities; the resources and supports available in our homes, neighborhoods, and communities; the quality of our schooling; the safety of our workplaces; the cleanliness of our water, food, and air; and the nature of our social interactions and relationships. The conditions in which we live explain in part why some Americans are healthier than others and why Americans more generally are not as healthy as they could be.”
Although Northern Virginia is home to some of our nation’s wealthiest counties, it masks the disparate populations that experience extreme poverty and vulnerabilities, or middle-income communities where people are just getting by, which are often right across the way from each other.
If you answered “no” to some or many of those questions above, where you live, play or work might be negatively impacting your health.
Northern Virginia Health Foundation partnered with Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center on Society and Health to map life expectancy across Northern Virginia. Learn how where you live, work, and play stacks up: https://novahealthfdn.org/life-expectancy-nova/
NVFS is always looking to be at the forefront of innovation. Right now, we are exploring increased opportunities to more deeply integrate our services and respond more effectively to arising community challenges that negatively impact people’s lives. So much of what we do already can positively impact the social determinants of health. And we’re always looking for volunteer partners. To learn more about NVFS’ health & well-being services and how you can get involved, visit nvfs.org/health.