This month we are launching a new series of infographics and accompanying blogs and commentaries to describe and explain the social determinants of health in an accessible and engaging way.

These determinants include political, social, economic, environmental and cultural factors which shape the conditions in which we are born, grow, live, work and age. Creating a healthy population requires greater action on these factors, not simply on treating ill health further down stream.

The first infographic shows the extent to which health is primarily shaped by factors outside the direct influence of health care and invites us to look at this bigger picture. It also highlights the gap of almost 20 years in health expectancy between people living in the most and least deprived areas of the UK – a gap that is explained not by our ability to see a doctor, but by differences in our experience of the things that make us healthy including good work, education, housing, resources, our physical environment and social connections.

As little as 10 per cent of a population's health and wellbeing is linked to access to health care. So what makes us healthy?

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In a companion blog, Sir Michael Marmot, director of the Institute of Health Equity at University College, London describes how poor social conditions give rise to what he terms ‘an epidemic of disempowerment’, and he illustrates this through the life of Glasgow-born ‘Jimmy’ whose experiences of disadvantage across the life course lead to his poor health and the risk of an early death. He also outlines six areas for action on the social determinants of health to improve the opportunities for people like Jimmy and help close the health gap.

Over the coming months, in eight further infographics we will explore with eye-catching facts, statistics and quotes how different social determinants influence our health.  Alongside each will be publishing blogs and interviews to capture both expert insights and the lived experience of people. In July, we focus on our surroundings, and how positive approaches to the built environment and access to green spaces can improve physical and mental health. Subsequent themes will be:

We will draw these themes together in a short animation in early 2018. By communicating useable data, information and concepts in a fresh and engaging way, we aim to stimulate a wider conversation about the social determinants of health. By presenting these infographics in sharable formats, we also hope that they will be a useful new resource to other organisations working to improve health. Look out for a new theme soon!

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McGovern L, Miller G, Hughes-Cromwick P. Health Policy Brief: The relative contribution of multiple determinants to health outcomes. Health Affairs. 21 August 2014.

Adam Smith. Wealth of Nations. 1776

Further reading