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Social and environmental factors are health determinants, in association with behavior, biological factors, and health services. Whereas socioeconomic characteristics (age, gender, ethnicity, social status) describe individuals, social determinants work through broader policies that are influenced by governments. The relation between health and four social areas is discussed. Social capital, measured as social networks and social support, appears to be protective in developing some heart disease and mental illnesses; job control at work is also found to protect against heart disease; early life experiences affect both biological and social development; and the degree of income inequality within societies correlates with health status. The Independent Report on Inequalities in Health, published in the United Kingdom in 1998, is also reviewed. The report (a) briefly describes inequalities in health by social class, sex, and ethnicity; (b) reviews the literature on policy areas that affect health; (c) includes a section indicating relatively little inequality of access or provision in the National Health Service; and (d) makes 132 recommendations. Social determinants is a new area of research having the potential to link epidemiology and environmental sciences at small area level.

Original publication




Journal article


Reviews on environmental health

Publication Date





97 - 108


Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, U.K.


Humans, Risk Factors, Epidemiology, Social Class, Health Policy, Social Environment, Social Support, Urban Health, Female, Male, United Kingdom