The overall conditions in which people live, go to school and work have a profound effect on their health. Those people who have less access to social and economic opportunities — who have unstable housing or poor housing conditions, who have limited access to healthy food, who suffer racial or other discrimination — are very often less healthy than people who live in better conditions. In fact, one recent study found that social factors — education, racial segregation, social supports and poverty — accounted for more than one-third of deaths in the United States in a year.
This reality is called the “social determinants of health.” It is a major focus of public health research, and the primary focus of a number of researchers at the School of Public Health.
More than a dozen School of Public Health researchers examine a range of “health equity” issues that affect certain populations of people in the United States.
Our researchers are:
- Examining ways to improve the health and healthcare of populations that traditionally have not been well-served by the health care system, including racial and ethnic minorities, people on the autism spectrum and trauma survivors.
- Exploring how social and economic factors influence the health of pregnant women and new mothers, and how work-related policies influence decisions about pregnancy and pregnancy outcomes.
- Developing and studying a nutrition intervention called Harvest for Healthy Kids, which connects children in early childhood care and education settings to local agriculture through classroom education, food service modification and family engagement.
- Taking a closer look at more than 400 studies to explore the prevalence of health disparities among U.S. military veterans, and some of the interventions designed to address those disparities.
- Examining the effects of vulnerable populations of people often being forced to use hospital emergency departments for their primary health care.
- Leading the Social Determinants of Health Initiative, a group that includes OHSU and PSU, state agencies, community organizations and others that are working on community-engaged research, education and action to understand and increase health equity.