Leveraging Social and Structural Determinants of Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: A Systems-Level Opportunity to Improve Public Health
CONTEXT: Social and structural determinants of health (SDOH) have become part of the public health and health care landscape. The need to address SDOH is reinforced by morbidity and mortality trends, including a recent multiyear decrease in life expectancy and persistent health disparities. Leadership on SDOH-related efforts has come from public health, health care, private philanthropy, and nongovernmental entities.
STRATEGY: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been addressing SDOH through both disease- or condition-specific programs and crosscutting offices. Guidance from public health partners in the field has led the CDC to consider more strategic approaches to incorporating SDOH into public health activities.
IMPLEMENTATION: The CDC’s crosscutting SDOH Workgroup responded to external recommendations to develop a specific vision and plan that aims to integrate SDOH into the agency’s infrastructure. The group also sponsors CDC forums for sharing research and trainings on embedding SDOH in programs. The group created a Web site to centralize CDC SDOH research, data sources, practice tools, programs, and policies. PROGRESS: The CDC has shown strong leadership in prioritizing SDOH in recent years. Individual programs and crosscutting offices have developed various models aimed at ensuring that public health research and practice address SDOH.
DISCUSSION: Building sustainable SDOH infrastructures in public health institutions that reach across multiple health topics and non-health organizations could increase chances of meeting public health morbidity and mortality reduction goals, including decreasing health disparities. Although public health priorities and socioeconomic trends will change over time, experience suggests that social and structural factors will continue to influence the public’s health. The CDC and state, tribal, local, and territorial public health institutions have played important leadership roles in the system of community and service organizations that interface with communities they mutually serve to address SDOH. Continued capacity-building could help grow and sustain an SDOH infrastructure that advances this work.
Lipshutz, J. A., Hall, J. E., Penman-Aguilar, A., Skillen, E., Naoom, S., & Irune, I. (2021). Leveraging Social and Structural Determinants of Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: A Systems-Level Opportunity to Improve Public Health. J Public Health Manag Pract. doi:10.1097/phh.0000000000001363