. . . understanding how healthis shaped
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 ourworkplaces will influence our health. Many factors at work can affect ourphysical and mental health, including stress, the physical demands of thejob, 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 upthe ladder. We may want to eat healthy food, but ifbuying fresh fruit and vegetables means we can’tpay the electricity bill, then what?
Such factors are called the social determinants ofhealth and are powerful influences on the healthand well-being of all Albertans.
Positively changing social determinants of healthgoes beyond the realm of individual actions.
Our communities, businesses, governmentsand institutions all have an important role indeveloping and supporting public policies that canmake good health a real possibility for Albertans ofall ages.
Political ideals also play a role. For example, indeveloped countries around the world, liberal orleft-leaning national governments are more oftenassociated with lower child poverty rates andhigher social spending than conservative or right-leaning governments.
Income and income
The more money we have, the betterour chances for good health. Andthe less we have, the worse thosechances. More money translatesinto better access to health services,safer neighbourhoods and bettermaintained housing. It also makescredit more affordable, transportationreliable and efficient and gives usmore chances for recreation andleisure. The income gap between therich and the poor affects everyone’shealth. In Alberta, that gap hasgrown faster in recent years thananywhere else in the country.
Human biology and
All social determinantsof health affect humanbiology and genetics. Ourgenes and body respondto our surroundings andexperiences—poverty, poornutrition or toxicstress, for example—andcan make us sick or increaseour likelihood of being sick.
Stressful environments limithealthy options and changeus regardless of the choiceswe make.
Education and literacy
Education is like income—themore you have, the betterit is for your health. Moreeducation means a betterchance at understandinghealth and the health-caresystem, making a higherincome, keeping a job andhaving a healthy workplace.
Basic literacy is essential too;
about 40 per cent of adultAlbertans can’t participatefully in civic life because oflow reading and writing skills.