The Whole Picture: The Importance Of Teaching The Social Determinants of Health

Growing up, I was taught that any benefits or consequences that I would reap from my health would be due to my own efforts and decisions.

It turns out that was a lie.

Listen, I’m not saying that our choices as individuals do not affect our wellness; I’m just saying that it’s not the whole picture.

We are living beings. As living beings, we exist within systems. Just as the water in which fish swim affects their ability to survive, the health of our systems has a significant impact on our wellness. Making things more complex, systems also affect specific individuals differently depending on the unique and shared characteristics of those people and groups (which is what we call “disparities”).

When teaching health, we need to help students understand how to look at health through a socio-ecological lens. By doing so, we can help them understand how health is affected at:

• The Intrapersonal Level (i.e. individual characteristics such as age, gender, and education),

• The Interpersonal Level (i.e. the relationships in our lives),

• The Community Level (i.e. the social and physical environments that we live in), and

• The Society Level (i.e. the policies that shape how we experience the world).

When we choose to take this approach, we can help students recognize the role these systems play in our lives and how they may affect certain people or groups differently when it comes to health. By making sense of the conditions that shape our living and working experiences (i.e. the social determinants of health), we support our students’ ability to make sense of the factors that impact their health and identify the inequities that may prevent others from experiencing the full potential of their own well-being.

In other words, we can help them see the whole picture… and then work towards making it better for everyone.

This microblog post was a featured post in #slowchathealth’s #microblogmonth event. You can search for all of the featured posts here. Please do follow each of the outstanding contributors on social media (including Joey Feith, the author of this post) and consider writing a microblog post of your own to be shared with the global audience of

Check out Joey’s awesome work via his site

Pair this blog post with the following:

Health Ed: What’s Personal is Public by Robbie Stapleton

Bring the World Into Your Health Classroom by Rae Merrigan

The Health Gap by Sir Michael Marmot

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