A new collaboration: Applying social data to improve well-being

The Social Determinants of Health (SDOH), defined as the “conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age that shape health,” are commonly understood as critical factors to determine health risks for vulnerable communities and individuals, identify prevention strategies, and improve the health of Americans. However, their use outside of the health space has been limited by a paradox. Because these factors have been defined as SDOH, many government, business, and community leaders who do not work on healthcare have considered the SDOH to be outside their scope. To unlock the full value of the SDOH, the health community must come together with experts in other areas to understand how social determinants can be used across sectors to promote well-being.

Programs like the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Healthy People initiative have identified indicators and set targets for progress for SDOH. The latest iteration of Healthy People, Healthy People 2030, has an overall goal of creating “social, physical, and economic environments that promote attaining the full potential for health and well-being for all,” and features a number of objectives related to the SDOH. There is now an opportunity to build on Healthy People 2030 to launch a comprehensive effort to set targets for progress in areas like housing, employment and economic stability, education, transportation, food security, and the environment.

Overall well-being is driven by an interconnected array of social and environmental factors. For example, children born to parents who have not completed high school are more likely to live in environments that are unsafe, unhealthy, and not conducive to a high quality of life. These children are also less likely to have access to sidewalks, parks, and recreational facilities. By identifying indicators and setting targets for well-being in areas like housing, education, and the environment, policymakers can take more targeted action to improve the well-being of individuals and communities, particularly those that are most vulnerable.

Together with the nonprofit Center for Open Data Enterprise (CODE), HHS is exploring these issues and opportunities through a new project on Cross-Sectoral Collaboration on Social Determinants of Health. A Webinar, co-hosted by HHS and CODE on September 21 at 12 PM ET, will highlight the need for all sectors to address the social determinants of well-being and feature speakers from health, transportation, education, and other spaces. The Webinar is open to all interested members of the public and will be followed by an expert Roundtable to develop new recommendations for progress on addressing these social factors. Please go to https://www.hhs.gov/live/live-1/index.html#13325 at noon ET on Tuesday, September 21 to watch the event live.

This is an opportunity to extend collaboration and coordination across agencies and other stakeholder groups based on existing, proven efforts. This will ensure that comprehensive data on social factors is captured and used to set targets for progress in areas beyond the traditional healthcare space.