Our health is largely influenced by the choices we make for ourselves and our families. And our ability to make healthy choices depends greatly on conditions in the conditions in communities where we live, learn, work and play.
Research shows that communities with smoke-free air laws, access to healthy foods, quality affordable housing, good schools and safe places to play are healthier than those that don't. In fact, the economic, social and physical environments that surround us can have a much greater impact on our health than how often we go to the doctor's office.
The United States spends more on health care than any other nation, but ranks poorly against other countries on basic indicators of health as infant mortality and life expectancy. This disparity is due in part to more Americans having preventable chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease, which raise health care costs and impede the nation’s economic productivity.
Many factors that influence health are outside the traditional health care setting. Accumulating evidence shows that social factors such as education, child care, income, housing and neighborhood conditions—also called social determinants—influence health.
For example, rates of chronic illness such as diabetes and heart disease have been shown to increase with poverty, and people living in poor or undereducated regions of the country have been shown to be more prone to illness. Widespread health disparities in our nation—often caused by differing levels of education, employment, economic status, housing, and community resources—pose significant obstacles to improving our nation’s overall health.
Targeted investments in proven policy and system changes in our communities can help overcome these obstacles so that more Americans can lead healthy and productive lives.