Strengthening the Public Research Agenda for Social Determinants of Health


This article describes the work of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other national research organizations to support research on the social determinants of health. The NIH is building a more robust social determinants research agenda through a broad range of research programs.

Key Findings:

  • NIH guidelines on research encourage inclusion of women, minorities and children in research to provide better information on health disparities and interventions. NIH researchers are asked to study the developmental origins of health disparities; improve the science of dissemination of findings on health disparities; develop methodologies to track changes in underserved communities; and strengthen partnerships between community-based research organizations.
  • The establishment of the NIH National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities (now the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, NIMHD) was a crucial step to improve research on social determinants of health.
  • NIMHD launched the Community-Based Participatory Research Initiative, which uses research to advance community partnerships. This initiative, broken into three phases, develops community partnerships, funds interventional research, and sponsors efforts to target health disparities in underserved populations.
  • The Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research has developed funding opportunities to support behavioral and social science research on health disparities.
  • The Basic Behavioral and Social Science Opportunity Network (OppNet), a recently created trans-NIH collaboration, sponsors research on mechanisms of behavior and its interactions with environment and biology.

A better understanding of the social determinants of health is key to understanding and eliminating health disparities in the United States. The NIH has an ambitious research plan to learn more about social determinants and to design effective interventions that narrow health disparities.