Over the last 20 years, researchers have delved into “social determinants of health,” that is, the impact of an individual’s personal circumstances on their health and well-being. For many, many years, as part of their routine, physicians have been taking a “social history.” Physicians who listened knew what recent studies have concluded: clinical medical care accounts for only 20 percent of health outcomes, and social circumstances account for 40 percent.
The increased interest in social determinants of health coincides with the recent focus on racially related issues in the United States. Policymakers note that interpersonal and systemic racism is a threat to health. On the other hand, basic common sense tells us that positive relationships at home, at work, and in the community can help reduce the impact of various negative factors.
Relationships among individuals are what life is all about. Since their exit from the womb, some Americans have been fortunate to be surrounded by a kaleidoscope of humanity. Others grow up insulated from different types of people, music, dance, and art forms. When they leave their cocoon, they are hit with “culture shock.”