Over the last couple of months, we have been bombarded with campaigns and policies that have been focusing on health, pinpointing issues such as lack of GPs in rural and regional areas, bed block in public hospital systems and the lack of timely access to specialists and medical services.
These issues are important to health but access to health care is not the most important factor affecting the health and wellbeing of our communities.
Health encompasses all aspects of our lives including housing, education, living environment, climate change, socio-economic position, work, social support networks, food security and transportation.
All these facets fall under the umbrella of social determinants of health which can make up to 80 per cent of the impacts on a person’s health.
Being unable to afford healthy food and safe, secure and permanent accommodation due to low incomes and unemployment, leads to poor nutrition and negative health outcomes.
Lack of education or access to transportation can affect access and ability to access better paying jobs.
These factors seem straight forward yet there are other factors that are not so obvious.
Social connectedness plays a significant role in health, with studies showing that the risk from cardiac death among adults with coronary heart disease was 2.4 times higher for these that were socially isolated compared to those who were socially connected.
Climate change can influence food and water security and our ability to respond to natural disasters and changing disease distribution.
With long-term environmental changes occurring, the rate and spread of the transmission of diseases has increased globally such as mosquito borne diseases including malaria and dengue fever.
The increase in frequency and magnitude of extreme local weather events such as floods and fires can make protecting communities harder.
This results in loss of security of shelter, employment, food, water and sanitation.
The social determinants of health form a complex interaction between individuals, community and population.
By just focusing on doctors, hospitals and medicines, we can neglect the more significant impacts that the social determinants of health play on the health of our communities.