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The Determinants of Health

Many factors influence human health as well disease onset, progression and outcome. Whether people will be healthy or not, is determined by various circumstances, personal characteristisc and different environmental factors (social, economic and physical).

There are many definitions and classifications of health-related factors in the literature, which are called “determinants of health”, generally defined as “The range of behavioural, biological, socio-economic and environmental factors that influence the health status of individuals or populations”. 1. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) there are following groups of health determinants:

  1. Income and social status (higher linked to better health);
  2. Education (lower linked with poor health, more stress and lower self-confidence);
  3. Physical environment (safe water and clean air, healthy workplaces, safe houses, communities and roads contribute to good health);
  4. Employment and working conditions (employed people are healthier, especially those with control over the working conditions);
  5. Social support networks (greater support – better health). Culture – customs and traditions, beliefs of the family and community affect health.
  6. Genetics (inheritance plays a role in determining life duration, health and the likelihood of developing disease);
  7. Personal behaviour and coping skills (eating habits, physical activity, smoking, alcohol drinking etc. positively or negatively affect health);
  8. Health services – access and use of prevention and treatment services;
  9. Gender (men and women suffer from different types of illnesses at different ages).

Centers for Disease Control (CDC) define five groups of the determinants of health:

  1. Biology and genetics
  2. Individual behavior
  3. Social environment
  4. Physical environment
  5. Health system

Research based of these groups of factors has shown that biological and genetic factors together with health behaviors affect health up to 25%, while factors from the social and physical environment together with the health service account for 75%.

Contrary to these scientific evidence, showing that the greatest number of factors determining our health are beyond the reach of personal behavioral changes, there are also numerous scientific evidence that focus on the individual behavior.

For many years, economic, social or political factors have remained almost completely neglected. This group of factors, under the common name “social determinants of health”, will probably gain more necessary attention in the future.