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Health equity and the social determinants of health

Health equity is created when individuals have the opportunity to achieve their full health potential. Conversely, equity is undermined when preventable and avoidable systematic conditions constrain life choices.

Systematic conditions are largely the social and economic factors known as the social determinants of health. The World Health Organization defines the social determinants of health as the circumstances in which people are born, develop, live and age. They include:

  • income and income distribution
  • early life
  • education
  • housing
  • food security
  • employment and working conditions
  • unemployment and job security
  • social safety net
  • social inclusion and exclusion
  • health services

 

CMA position

The CMA believes the social determinants of health can have a larger impact on individual and population health than the health care system. The CMA also believes that any actions to improve health and tackle health inequity must address the social determinants and their impact on daily life.

Physicians and the social determinants of health

Physicians and the social determinants of health

Physicians and the social determinants of health

Physicians see the impact of health inequities every day in their clinics and emergency departments, and are committed to pushing for action to address issues of health equity in Canada. In 2012, the CMA policy Health equity and the social determinants of health: A role for the medical profession was adopted. A companion paper offers strategies to address health inequities in practice and highlights promising clinical approaches from across Canada.

Canadians and the social determinants of health

The CMA held a national dialogue in 2013 on the social determinants of health. In those town hall meetings, Canadians served notice that they expect government action to address these issues. The summary report – Health Care in Canada: What Makes Us Sick? – includes several recommendations.

Ensuring equitable access to effective and appropriate health care services is one way to help reduce health inequities resulting from differences in social and economic conditions. Equitable access can be defined as the opportunity for patients to obtain appropriate health care services based on their perceived need for care.

The CMA position statement Ensuring Equitable Access to Care outlines strategies for governments, health system planners and the medical profession.

Reports