Social factors can affect health directly and indirectly as their effects accumulate across individuals' lifetimes and across generations, leading to vicious cycles between social factors and health. Although genes and medical care also are important, social factors probably play a greater role than either, and interact with both. Fortunately, many social factors can be influenced by policies and programs.
Early Life Experience
Early childhood experiences can have powerful influences on an individual's health, not just in childhood but throughout life. Children born premature and underweight are more likely to face health problems than their peers, which can later lead to other factors which negatively impact health.
Education has profound health effects. More education makes an individual more aware of healthy and unhealthy choices and makes it easier to make healthy choices.
For centuries, poverty has been linked to ill health. It is not difficult to understand why the poor would have worse health than people with greater economic means. We now know that even middle-class people generally have poorer health than the most affluent.
Work can influence health in many ways, including through links both with health care insurance and with physically hazardous exposures in the workplace.
Poor-quality housing poses a risk of exposure to many conditions that can contribute to poor health, such as indoor allergens that can lead to and exacerbate asthma, injuries, and exposure to lead and other toxic substances.
Characteristics of communities can influence health in many direct and indirect ways. For example, neighborhoods can be physically hazardous because of air and chemical pollution, traffic, lack of sidewalks and safe places to exercise, and because of crime. Read more
Race and Ethnicity
Racial and ethnic background has profound effects on an individual health primarily because of the different social and economic experiences advantages and disadvantages that go along with race and ethnicity.
The general economic environment can affect health by affecting levels of unemployment, wages and benefits, barriers to educational attainment, and availability of social and health services.