Social determinants of health: How neighborhood and built environment affects health | myNEXUS®

13 . 01 . 2022

< Read previous article in this series

We’ve heard it before: “Location matters!” Nowhere is this more evident than in healthcare. Our built environment, or the community and circumstances in which we live, play a huge role in our wellness, habits, and access to resources. In this article, we will continue our social determinants of health series by discussing four environmental factors with great impact on the health of individuals and communities and provide information on how the health care industry can help address them.

#1: Access to healthy food

Low-income neighborhoods that do not have access to healthy, affordable food are often referred to as “food deserts.” The Food Access Research Atlas, developed by The United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, has identified that approximately 10% of United States census subdivisions are food deserts. Food deserts often have a high rate of hunger, obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

#2: Crime and violence

The link between the perceived safety of an environment and obesity is the subject of a study discussed in Preventive Medicine. In this study, people who perceived their environment to be unsafe participated in less physical activity and had a greater chance of obesity.

#3: Environmental conditions

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 7.7% of adults aged 65 and older have asthma with environmental triggers found both inside and outside the home. Triggers can include dust mites, cockroaches, mold, animal dander, as well as numerous air pollutants. Living in these conditions can result in asthma attacks, infection, and even hospitalization.

#4: Quality of housing

What we can do

Health plans, providers, and other members of the healthcare industry are well-positioned to help those we serve to manage the environmental factors that affect their health. For example, we can partner with and encourage patients to access national and community resources such as:

Nutrition and fitness


Crime, safety, and social services programs

  • 2-1-1 Available across the US, the 211 website or phone line connects patients with confidential help and acts as a source of referral to a variety of local and national social services programs

As health care industry members, we also can provide those we serve with access to preventive health services to address chronic conditions associated with patients’ environments, such as asthma, diabetes, and heart disease. By working together, we can strive to help Americans overcome barriers in their community and live longer healthier lives.

Understanding social determinants of health

The term “social determinants of health” (SDOH) refers to environmental and community barriers to quality care. In our SDOH series, we’re covering the areas that reflect those barriers most often, as outlined by the CDC. Read more about the social determinants of health

  4. The Lancet, Public Health EDITORIAL|VOLUME 5, ISSUE 7, E361, JULY 01, 2020
  5. Brown BB, Werner CM, Smith KR, Tribby CP, Miller HJ. Physical activity mediates the relationship between perceived crime safety and obesity. Prev Med. 2014 Sep;66:140-4. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2014.06.021. Epub 2014 Jun 22. PMID: 24963894; PMCID: PMC4134936.


< Read previous article in this series