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Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What does the term “social determinants of health” mean?
A: Healthy People 2020 defines social determinants of health as conditions in the environments in which people live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks. Conditions (e.g., social, economic, and physical) in these various environments and settings (e.g., school, church, workplace, and neighborhood) have been referred to as “place.” In addition to the more material attributes of “place,” the patterns of social engagement and sense of security and well-being are also affected by where people live.

Healthy People 2020  developed a “place-based” organizing framework, reflecting five key areas of SDOH:

  • Economic Stability
  • Education
  • Social and Community Context
  • Health and Health Care
  • Neighborhood and Built Environment

Resources that enhance quality of life can have a significant influence on population health outcomes. Examples of these resources include safe and affordable housing, access to education, public safety, availability of healthy foods, local emergency/health services, and environments free of life-threatening toxins.9

Healthy People 2020  highlights the importance of addressing SDOH by including “create social and physical environments that promote good health for all” as one of the four overarching goals for the decade.10

Note that the World Health Organization also provides a definition of social determinants of health.11

Q: What is the purpose of the SDOH web portal?
A: Motivated largely by the growing interest in SDOH, the CDC SDOH web portal was created to help users access CDC resources related to SDOH from one website.

Q: Who should use the CDC SDOH web portal?
A: Communities, public health practitioners, health care providers, and others interested in SDOH will find the CDC SDOH web portal contains a wealth of resources to support their efforts.

Q: Is this a comprehensive list of SDOH tools?
A: The SDOH tools listed on the portal are generated or funded by CDC. The site connects users with resources for accessing data, tools for action, programs, and policy options to help tackle SDOH. This site will be updated as additional SDOH resources are identified within CDC. CDC-generated or -funded research studies and findings are not included on this site at this time. The CDC SDOH web portal does not contain an exhaustive list of SDOH tools.

Q: How were tools selected for inclusion on the CDC SDOH web portal?
A: The SDOH tools were collected from CDC’s Centers, Institutes, and Offices (CIOs) using a systematic approach. Items are included if they:

  • Demonstrate a clear connection to SDOH
  • Received CDC funds in whole or in part
  • Were developed within the last 10 years and submitted by their CIO for inclusion on the website

If you find a useful tool that was not included here and meets the CDC SDOH web portal inclusion criteria, please contact us at healthpolicynews@cdc.gov.

Q: Where can I find the references for the landing page content?
A: All of the references:

1Healthy People 2020. Social Determinants of Health.
2 Adler NE, Newman K. Socioeconomic disparities in health: pathways and policies. Health Affairs 2002;21(2):60-76.
3 Walker RE, Keane CR, Burke JG. Disparities and access to healthy food in the United States: a review of food deserts literature. Health & Place 2010;16(5):876-884.
4 Saegert S, Evans GW. Poverty, housing niches, and health in the United States. Journal of Social Issues 2003;59(3):569-89.
5 Braveman P. Health disparities and health equity: concepts and measurement. Annu Rev Public Health 2006;27:167-94.
6 Norman D, Kennedy B, Kawachi I. Why justice is good for our health: the social determinants of health inequalities. Daedalus 1999;128:215-51.
7 Williams DR, Costa MV, Odunlami AO, Mohammed SA. Moving upstream: how interventions that address the social determinants of health can improve health and reduce disparities. Journal of Public Health Manag Pract 2008;14(Suppl):S8.
8 Marmot M, Commission on Social Determinants of Health. Achieving health equity: from root causes to fair outcomes. The Lancet 2007;370(9593):1153-63.

9 Healthy People 2020. Social Determinants of Health. Available at Healthy People 2020. Social Determinants of Health
10 Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Objectives for 2020. Healthy People 2020: An Opportunity to Address the Societal Determinants of Health in the United States. July 26, 2010. Available at Healthy People 2020: An Opportunity to Address Societal Determinants of Health in the United States
11 World Health Organization. What are social determinants of health? Available at What are social determinants of health?

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Q: How did you select articles for the research section?
A: We included articles on this website that have at least one CDC author and were published in 2016 or later. This list will be updated periodically to add articles published after this website was developed. All CDC Centers, Institutes and Offices had the opportunity to review these lists to ensure we included as many relevant articles as possible. We chose articles that:

  • Focus substantively on SDOH in their underlying research,
  • Expand the SDOH scientific evidence and knowledge base,
  • Analyze health outcomes in the context of social and structural factors, or
  • Describe actions that address SDOH to improve health and achieve health equity.

Some articles related to SDOH may not have been included because they did not meet these criteria. Examples of excluded articles:

  • Research that primarily describes varying rates of disease in particular populations (e.g., descriptive pieces that do not assign causal connections to social and structural influences)
  • Research that mentions social or structural factors in a conclusion but not in the research
  • Research focused on mental health or behaviors without explicit linkage to structural or social factors.

If you know about CDC-published research that was not included here and meets the inclusion criteria, please contact us at healthpolicynews@cdc.gov.

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Q: How can I find research articles on particular SDOH topics?
A: Articles are organized by Healthy People 2020 domains: Economic Stability, Education, Social/Community Context, Health and Health Care and Neighborhood and Built Environment. There are also articles listed under a general category that do not fit neatly under one of the domains because they discuss cross-cutting topics such as methods, data access, general practices, or other areas unrelated to domains. However, given the nature of social determinants, articles can easily fall under more than one category. For example:

  • Articles that largely focus on high levels of incarceration (a social contextual issue) might also discuss challenges in economic stability.
  • Articles about the effects of characteristics such as crime levels, which fall under the category of neighborhood and built environment, could also contain content about housing stability. Therefore such articles could also fall under the economic stability category.

Q: Is research on workplace conditions included in SDOH?
A: While it is neither a separate domain nor listed as a “key issue” under any of the HP2020 framework domains, this website has listed research related to workplace conditions under the social and community context domain because:

  • Work is a central part of people’s lives that affects the physical, psychological, and social well-being of workers and their families.
  • Understanding the influence job or career has on health goes beyond the physical, emotional and social hazards, risks, and conditions faced at work.
  • A person’s job or career also exerts a significant influence over other aspects of life that contribute to or detract from personal health and health of family members. For example, work often determines workers’ type of health care, the kind of neighborhood in which they can afford to live, how much money they have to meet their families’ needs, and the time they have to spend with their families.

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