There are certain age-old debates that are challenging to get to the bottom of, like, does pineapple belong on pizza? Or what came first, the chicken or the egg? One dispute that science can help us understand is one of nature vs. nurture. When you think of your health and wellbeing, try to imagine all of the factors that come together to support the beautiful life that is YOU. Five factors that scientists often consider when speaking about the nurture aspect of our wellness are referred to as social determinants of health: education, health care, community, economic stability, and neighborhood.
In the book Social Determinants of Health, the author states, “The health of populations is related to features of society. This crucial fact provides the basis for effective policy making to improve population health.”
For so long, doctors and scientists have concentrated on the nature aspect of our health. Including nurture in this discussion helps us move towards a more complete puzzle in understanding how to optimize human health and wellness.
Here are 5 ways our zip code may influence our health more than our DNA code:
The more you know, the more you grow! Lack of education has been cited as one of the most important social determinants of health. Policies that improve individual life opportunities, such as basic education, are likely to reduce health inequalities. While on a grand scale, community proposals include suggestions such as increasing opportunities for education, what can we do to promote this social determinant of health?
At Owaves, we are making our contribution in a way that you are experiencing right now: blog posts! As a community of citizen scientists, we stay informed on recent peer-reviewed journals on health and wellness to inform both the development of our app, and those who are using it!
Our wellness largely depends on our accessibility to those who can provide help when we need it. In research, lack of access to healthcare is defined as living in a medically underserved area where access to primary care and other services is limited.
In what we are witnessing with Covid-19, we have clear insight to the zip codes that are most impacted by this social determinant of health. There are clear racial disparities that exist in these medically underserved areas, and we here at Owaves are actively working as advocates of diversity in scientific research. We are proud to be partnered with the National Institutes of Health’s All of Us research program, to help build one of the most diverse health databases in history!
The conversation of “health care” often becomes one focused more on sick care. When considering the social determinant of community, we begin to think of nurture’s role in a preventative approach.
According to research, community resources include food pantries, job training centers, and housing programs. If a community has more food pantries, it may have less hungry people. If a community has more opportunities for job training, it is more likely you’ll find a job.
While those are very physical examples of community, we can’t neglect the role of our digital communities on our physical health. At Owaves, our digital community is called #MyMoai. This feature is a special way to synchronize your schedules with loved ones and maintain healthy social rhythms from a distance. We’ll be sharing more about social rhythms in our next blog post!
4. Economic Stability
Socioeconomic factors such as unemployment, poverty, and income inequality are some of the most consistent social determinants of health found in research. Economic instability is a barrier in accessing healthcare, having an education, and living in a community that allows you to be well.
Inadequate housing and homelessness speak to the severity of economic instability. In understanding the importance of social determinants of health, it becomes clear that wellness does not solely depend on doctors. In order for individuals, and ultimately societies, to thrive, doctors and policy makers must collaborate for the greater good.
While the Covid-19 pandemic has given us recent insight into the influence of zip code on wellness, scientists have been observing the role of neighborhood on our health for quite some time. They have found that factors such as a neighborhood’s walkability or supermarket accessibility predict obesity—an epidemic that has been on the rise in America since the 1990’s.
These five social determinants of health paint a clearer picture of the power of nurture in our age-old debate. In the age of social technology, it is important for us to continue learning from and working with scientists to develop the tools that allow our wellness to transcend our zip code!