. . . understanding how health
Everything—from our income and neighbourhoods to our jobs and
education—affects our health. Michael Hingston explains their influence
Employment and working conditions
We spend much of our lives at our jobs, so the safety and health of our
workplaces will influence our health. Many factors at work can affect our
physical and mental health, including stress, the physical demands of the
job, our control over our work and our pay, vacation time and benefits.
We may want to have a better job, but if work is
scarce or we are short on skills, it’s hard to move up
the ladder. We may want to eat healthy food, but if
buying fresh fruit and vegetables means we can’t
pay the electricity bill, then what?
Such factors are called the social determinants of
health and are powerful influences on the health
and well-being of all Albertans.
Positively changing social determinants of health
goes beyond the realm of individual actions.
Our communities, businesses, governments
and institutions all have an important role in
developing and supporting public policies that can
make good health a real possibility for Albertans of
Political ideals also play a role. For example, in
developed countries around the world, liberal or
left-leaning national governments are more often
associated with lower child poverty rates and
higher social spending than conservative or right-leaning governments.
Income and income
The more money we have, the better
our chances for good health. And
the less we have, the worse those
chances. More money translates
into better access to health services,
safer neighbourhoods and better
maintained housing. It also makes
credit more affordable, transportation
reliable and efficient and gives us
more chances for recreation and
leisure. The income gap between the
rich and the poor affects everyone’s
health. In Alberta, that gap has
grown faster in recent years than
anywhere else in the country.
Human biology and
All social determinants
of health affect human
biology and genetics. Our
genes and body respond
to our surroundings and
nutrition or toxic
stress, for example—and
can make us sick or increase
our likelihood of being sick.
Stressful environments limit
healthy options and change
us regardless of the choices
Education and literacy
Education is like income—the
more you have, the better
it is for your health. More
education means a better
chance at understanding
health and the health-care
system, making a higher
income, keeping a job and
having a healthy workplace.
Basic literacy is essential too;
about 40 per cent of adult
Albertans can’t participate
fully in civic life because of
low reading and writing skills.