How Social Factors Shape Health: Stress and Health

 Three patients, who are now friends, leaving a clinic.

Over the past several decades, research has revealed dramatic differences in important child and adult health outcomes based on social factors such as income and wealth, education, and racial or ethnic group. These differences in health begin early in life—even before birth—and accumulate over lifetimes and across generations, and a growing body of evidence indicates that the effects of stress play a fundamental role.

This issue brief provides an overview of current knowledge about the links between stress and health, the differences between 'good' stress and 'bad' stress and the potential impact on health and examines how social advantage or disadvantage can influence people's experiences of stress. It also provides an overview of the physiologic mechanisms related to stress and health. Understanding these relationships can help inform and guide policies in all of the sectors that influence health.

This is one in a series of 12 issue briefs on the social determinants of health. The series began as a product of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Commission to Build a Healthier America and continues as a part of the Foundation's Vulnerable Populations Portfolio.