We understand that social policies have great potential to affect health, but studies that aim to document the associations between policy interventions and health outcomes are often methodologically weak.
While there is widespread understanding that the health system and other factors — social determinants — affect health, we know relatively little about their precise contributions to health differences across a population at a point in time or differences in health of a fixed population over time.
The following is an interview with Paula M. Lantz, PhD, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, James B. Hudak Professor of Health Policy, Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan. Dr. Lantz is also a member of the Drivers of Health project advisory committee.
Education is strongly associated with health outcomes, but the pathways between them are less clear. Though there’s a lot we don’t know about the relationship, careful study has teased out some explanations.
Education is related to health. Better educated people tend to be healthier. Why? The pathways from education to health are varied and complex, as explained by Paula Braveman, one of the speakers at our Princeton meeting.
The risks to health faced by Americans long ago are different from those we face today. Some of the things that once killed many people (like poor sanitation) now kill many fewer. On the other hand, we now face new risks (like death from auto accidents) that didn’t exist a century ago.
The causal pathways from social determinants of health to health outcomes can be numerous and complex. Though some factors (like smoking) are directly related to health, others (like education or income) relate to health in a variety of indirect ways.