A new article in The JAMA Forum1 highlights increased concerns and should inspire more conversation about social determinants of health, described by the CDC as “conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks.”
JAMA article authors noted that social determinants have been found to be responsible for up to 90% of health outcomes and that research tells us no matter the advancements in medicine and health care, the health of individuals and communities will not improve if these root-cause social factors are not addressed. And now, the COVID pandemic is bringing significant attention to one determinant - social isolation.
Demonstrated to be as dangerous to health as smoking 15 cigarettes per day, social isolation has been identified as worthy of being a public health priority. This statistic is one we’ve also previously noted in articles detailing the effects of isolation and loneliness on the brain that includes a decline in cognitive function. These factors are not new in the potential to cause neurological health problems; lifestyle changes over the years now often means that many miles can separate family members from one another. More people both young and old are living alone and there has long been an increased tendency even before 2020 and physical distancing to engage with others online vs. in person.
Authors concluded their review stating “there must be continued acknowledgement of the inherent connection between social isolation and the other social determinants of health, as well as leveraging of relationship-based care and community-level supports to address social needs.” This is especially true in the most vulnerable and challenged populations whose access to healthcare, education and technology is often severely impacted by economic factors. We really must be cognizant of the need post-COVID to work collaboratively toward viable solutions that can offer improved opportunities for all patients, in all circumstances.
Learn more about the impacts of isolation on the brain and some ways we can combat this at https://www.suzannegazdamd.com/blog/our-brain-in-isolation-what-to-know-what-we-can-do
1 Escalante E, Golden RL, Mason DJ. Social Isolation and Loneliness: Imperatives for Health Care in a Post-COVID World. JAMA. 2021;325(6):520–521. doi:10.1001/jama.2021.0100