Why Social Determinants Matter in Health Journalism

Why Social Determinants Matter in Health Journalism

C3) Why Social Determinants Matter in Health Journalism

The belief in the ability to exert control over one’s life and environment is regarded as essential for both physical and mental well-being. Both philosophy and pop culture teach that to a large extent, we have the power of personal freedom and self-determination.

This message is reinforced by both public health promotion campaigns and media, which focus on the individual, urging behavior change. But in health, we are not the sole determiners of our lives. Although lifestyle choices contribute to some diseases, there are numerous factors beyond an individual’s control that directly or indirectly influence health outcomes.

The circumstances of birth, physical environment, socio-economic status, education level, race, gender and even the gender pay gap are just some social determinants of health (SDOH) that impact physical and mental well-being.

Increasingly, policymakers and researchers are recognizing and integrating social factors that influence health status to develop more effective treatment plans. The Public Health Foundation of India launched a center dedicated to reducing health inequalities through research and policy related to SDOH. In the United States, Healthy People 2020, a national initiative to promote health and disease prevention, is bringing together individuals and agencies to improve the health nationally. In these national initiatives, SDOH is crucial to identify ways to create social and physical environments that promote good health for all.

The Association of Health Care Journalists believes it’s critical for journalists to dig into this subject, since there are politicians who continue to emphasize the role of individual behaviors. There is concern that journalists’ failure to address the SDOH is detrimental to public awareness, considering the media is enormously influential in shaping public response to health issues.

This session brings together journalists and public health professionals from three countries with huge health inequalities: India, South Africa and the United States. They will delve into the complexities of social determinants and the need to incorporate SDOH in health stories and analyze media coverage.