Systems change for the social determinants of health

Gemma Carey, Gemma Carey, Bradley R Crammond

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    Background: Inequalities in the distribution of the social determinants of health are now a widely recognised problem, seen as requiring immediate and significant action (CSDH. Closing the Gap in a Generation. Geneva: WHO; 2008; Marmot M. Fair Society, Healthy Lives: The Marmot Review. Strategic Review of Health Inequalitites inEngland Post-2010. London; 2010). Despite recommendations for action on the social determinants of health dating back to the 1980s, inequalities in many countries continue to grow. In this paper we provide an analysis of recommendations from major social determinants of health reports using the concept of 'system leverage points'. Increasingly, powerful and effective action on the social determinants of health is conceptualised as that which targets government action on the non-health issues which drive health outcomes. Methods: Recommendations for action from 6 major national reports on the social determinants of health were sourced. Recommendations from each report were coded against two frameworks: Johnston et al's recently developed Intervention Level Framework (ILF) and Meadow's seminal '12 places to intervene in a system' (Johnston LM, Matteson CL, Finegood DT. Systems Science and Obesity Policy: A Novel Framework forAnalyzing and Rethinking Population-Level Planning. American journal of public health. 2014;(0):e1-e9; Meadows D. Thinking in Systems. USA: Sustainability Institute; 1999) (N = 166). Results: Our analysis found several major changes over time to the types of recommendations being made, including a shift towards paradigmatic change and away from individual interventions. Results from Meadow's framework revealed a number of potentially powerful system intervention points that are currently underutilised in public health thinking regarding action on the social determinants of health. Conclusion: When viewed through a systems lens, it is evident that the power of an intervention comes not from where it is targeted, but rather how it works to create change within the system. This means that efforts targeted at government policy can have only limited effectiveness if they are aimed at changing relatively weak leverage points. Our analysis raises further (and more nuanced) questions about what effective action on the social determinants of health looks like.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)10
    JournalBMC Public Health
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2015


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