How much should doctors focus on the social determinants of health?

Bryn HealyU.S. News social media intern
July 02, 2024, 6:32 PM GMT+0

Our health can be affected by a variety of factors — beyond a fall or the common cold. Social determinants of health, which include economic and social resources, have been found to not only affect individual health but also community health. For example, life expectancy in higher-income countries is 18 years longer than the life expectancy in lower-income countries, according to the World Health Organization — which could reflect the quality of medical treatment but also many other factors affected by income. As a result, doctors are trying to expand the practice of medicine out of their offices and into everyday activities that can heal, such as being in nature or dancing.

A large majority of Americans strongly or somewhat support (69%) the practice of social prescribing — connecting people to nonmedical activities such as dance — becoming a more regular part of American health care. Slightly more Americans under 45 (73%) support addressing people’s underlying problems with social prescriptions than Americans 45 and older (66%). Similarly, slightly more Democrats (78%) than Independents (65%) and Republicans (66%) support this proposed change.

Even though a majority of Americans support doctors routinely offering social prescriptions, only 41% would feel positively — would love it or like it — if they were offered it themselves. About one-third of Americans (32%) would feel neutral about being prescribed a social activity as part of a larger treatment plan.

Groups that are more likely to support social prescriptions also generally have more positive views of potentially receiving a social prescription themselves. More adults under 45 (46%) than older adults (36%) would love or like getting a social prescription. And more Democrats would feel good about being prescribed a social plan (51%) than would Independents (34%) and Republicans (39%).

42% of Americans say that doctors aren’t focusing enough on social determinants of health as of yet. More women (47%) than men (36%) — and more Americans with a college degree (47%) than Americans without one (39%) — say that their doctors generally focus too little on the underlying social causes of health.

Explore more data & articles