The Future of the Social Determinants of Health – An Eclectic and Transdisciplinary Scan of the Academic Literature – January 24, 2020

According to the World Health Organization, the social determinants of health are “the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels. The social determinants of health are mostly responsible for health inequities – the unfair and avoidable differences in health status seen within and between countries.”

In preparation for deeper work in the new national Social Work Education Health Futures Lab – this preliminary review of the literature is shared. Our effort will seek to invite social work scholars to contribute to new ways of imaging and contributing to health equity and sharing them in the form of research, curriculum and scholarship. How will social work and social work education advance health equity in the future? That question will be our guiding star.

The goal of the linked review was to identify a beginning group of resources that mentioned social determinants of health along with concepts of the future, climate change, technology (including artificial intelligence, social media and other dimensions) along with an assortment of other concepts deemed related to futures or foresight.

Social work has made many contributions to health equity in the United States, and a few of them are included here. Our next challenge is to prepare for what comes next and how to navigate, shape and co-create a future in which health is respected as a human right and to which systems and supports to reinforce health for all is a reality. Social work education will do this by preparing a workforce that is ready and able to deliver this promise. This resource list will help to spark some ideas – but should not in any way limit our imaginations.

By its very nature, this review is eclectic, transdisciplinary and emergent. Pathways forward to building a more equitable health future will rely on our collective intelligence, imagination and agility – and will require us to look for new kinds of information and put it together in new ways. The academic literature will always be an is an imperfect and incomplete knowledge base – but it serves to give us a reference point and a place to find what our fellow social scientists have explored.

Updates and revisions will be forthcoming. I invite suggestions – so if you have ideas for good resources you think should be included, they are welcome.


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