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Op-Ed | To Improve Health, We Must Focus on Social Determinants

By Sahar Arshad, COO of CloudMedx

As moms, we’re often told how important it is to take good care of ourselves through eating, exercising, and getting enough sleep. But some of the biggest forces that determine our health are out of our control.

They’re called “social determinants of health.” They include things like having a stable source of income, access to doctors and pharmacies, clean air and water, and other aspects of the neighborhoods and environments we live in. According to the World Health Organization, these determinants, known by the acronym SDOH, account for between 30 and 55% of “health outcomes”—in other words, the changes to our health.

A 2022 report from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that when it comes to these determinants, parents have it especially hard. “Across most measures, adults with children in their household fared worse compared to overall adults,” the report says.

Why do we have it worse? For starters, the foundation’s survey found that parents are more likely than others to lose employment income and be unable to cover basic expenses. This makes sense for all sorts of reasons, including the fact that we sometimes can’t hold down a full-time job and still care for everyone who needs us. And with all those responsibilities, we’re less likely to be able to put in extra paid hours that help fill our wallets.

Unfortunately, these findings did not surprise me. As a mom of two, I know how tough life can be for parents. Motherly’s 2022 State of Motherhood survey report showed that moms are facing a slew of challenges to their well-being, including disproportionate caregiving burdens, loss of jobs and careers, and more.

I also specialize in healthcare data. I’m COO of CloudMedx, which is working with patients, healthcare providers and insurance companies to harness data and improve the medical system. The goal is to build healthier communities. Some of my most intense work has involved social determinants of health. I’m committed to helping empower all of us, including moms, to learn about the SDOH where we live.

To help people understand the determinants of health in their communities, CloudMedx created an online tool called the SDOH explorer. It allows you to zoom into any city, county or zip code to see the prevalence of key determinants in your area. You can discover how many people don’t have enough food, how many don’t have cars to get places (like a grocery store or the doctor’s office), and how many rely on SNAP benefits. You can also see how many suffer from health conditions like obesity and hypertension, and much more.

Since we track figures over time, the explorer shows you how things have been improving or getting worse where you live.

This does a lot more than show you that you’re not alone. It’s a tool to help bring about solutions.

Using your knowledge to become an empowered voter

You know how your phone, email and mailbox may be filling up with messages from political candidates? It’s time to use this data to demand action from our leaders. Whether at town hall events or in conversations with campaign representatives who knock on your door, ask about the social determinants of health where you live. Post about them on social media, on the Facebook pages and Twitter accounts for these candidates.

You can then use this same tool to hold leaders accountable. My team updates our SDOH explorer as new data becomes available, so you can check to see whether leaders are actually making real, concrete changes.

So, this election season, here’s a message to politicians: Show America’s moms what you’re doing to improve social determinants of health. And know that the mothers of this country be watching.

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