Health and Society

January 8, 2021 • Volume 31, Issue 2
Would better social conditions improve medical outcomes?
By Susan Ladika


The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted health disparities in the United States, as Black, Hispanic and Native Americans have become infected and died at higher rates than others. Researchers have found that up to 80 percent of a person's health is influenced by the conditions in which they “live, learn, work and play.” The five main categories of such health-related social factors are economic stability, education, social and community context, access to quality health care and the conditions in the neighborhoods where people live. Some experts believe that addressing issues such as food insecurity and unsafe housing can improve health outcomes while reducing the cost of health care in the United States — $3.8 trillion in 2019 — the highest in the developed world. Health care organizations and insurers are pouring billions of dollars into programs designed to address individuals' and communities' social service needs in hopes that they will improve health care outcomes. And President-elect Joe Biden is establishing a task force to tackle some of these health disparities.

Photo of medical personnel caring for a COVID-19 patient at Roseland Community Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. (Getty Images/Scott Olson)
Kennedy Rutland cares for a COVID-19 patient at Roseland Community Hospital in Chicago, where the neighborhood's predominantly Black population has been hit harder by the pandemic than white residents living elsewhere in the city. The pandemic has highlighted how social factors such as education, economic stability and community conditions affect health outcomes. (Getty Images/Scott Olson)
ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Dec. 02, 2022  Long COVID
Oct. 29, 2021  COVID-19 Vaccines
Jan. 08, 2021  Health and Society
Nov. 20, 2020  The Public Health System
Jul. 17, 2020  The Pandemic Economy
Jun. 26, 2020  Zoonotic Diseases
May 08, 2020  CTE and Athletes
Jan. 24, 2020  Conquering Rare Diseases
Sep. 13, 2019  Measles Resurgence
Nov. 30, 2018  Obesity Crisis
Jun. 15, 2018  Superbug Threat
Jun. 02, 2017  Pandemic Threat
Jul. 22, 2016  Mosquito-Borne Disease
Feb. 13, 2015  Emerging Infectious Diseases
Nov. 08, 2013  Lyme Disease
Jan. 06, 2012  Preventing Disease
Apr. 02, 2010  Breast Cancer
Sep. 12, 2008  Heart Health
Aug. 24, 2007  Fighting Superbugs
Jan. 13, 2006  Avian Flu Threat
Jun. 20, 2003  Fighting SARS
Apr. 05, 2002  Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Mar. 09, 2001  Diabetes Epidemic
Mar. 02, 2001  Mad Cow Disease
Dec. 24, 1999  Asthma Epidemic
Aug. 05, 1983  Multiple Sclerosis
May 27, 1983  Chronic Pain: The Hidden Epidemic
Sep. 24, 1976  Influenza Control
Sep. 16, 1970  Virus Research
Mar. 14, 1956  Progress Against Polio
May 25, 1955  Degenerative Diseases
May 25, 1949  Chronic Disease
Mar. 01, 1924  The Foot and Mouth Disease
Congress Actions
Economic Crises
General International Relations
Infectious Diseases
Low Income and Public Housing
Medicaid and Medicare
Mental Health
Online Education
Party Politics
Regional Planning and Urbanization
Undergraduate and Graduate Education
Unemployment and Employment Programs
Welfare and Welfare Reform