"In Pursuit of Happiness"

May 1, 2024, 12:43 PM by Dr. Sally Robinson

Probably the best known phrase in the Constitution is the “pursuit of happiness”.  One of the main component of happiness is good health.  The US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy called attention to a public health crisis of loneliness, isolation, and lack of connection in our country which is contributing to poor health and earlier death. In the March 22, 2024 edition of the Galveston Daily News reported on a study by Dr. Markides who found that Hispanic Americans live longer (7 years) than white Americans on the average.  Dr. Markides is quoted saying that there is “a story in social science that support systems and strong families are conducive to good health and longevity”.

Over the past two decades public health‘s attention has been studying the social determinants of health looking at what factors apart from medical care influence health in powerful ways.  These social factors indicate that medical care is not the only influencer on health and suggests that the effects of medical care may be more limited than commonly thought.

Generally speaking the social determinants of health are divided into 5 groups: economic stability, education access and quality, health care access and quality, neighborhood and built environment, and social and community context.  Some examples include safe housing, transportation and neighborhoods, education, job opportunities and income, racism, discrimination and violence, polluted air and water, access to nutritious foods and physical activity.  This about covers every aspect of your life and that of a child.

Over the past 25 years there is little doubt that social factors are powerful determinants of health.  Drs. Paula Braveman and Laura Gottlieb report in Public Health Reports how these social factors shape health.  Some of the social determinants that affect children are lead ingestion in disadvantaged neighborhoods, polluted air making asthma worse, lower availability of fresh produce causing poorer nutrition plus many more.

Chronic exposure of children to social and environmental stressors do cause changes in the body’s nervous system, the immune/inflammatory system and metabolic systems.  Are these changes permanent? How can they be helped?  Education can increase knowledge and help healthier behavior.  Education can also lead to better paying jobs.  Access to health care includes access not only to medical care but access to medicine.  Diabetes cannot be managed if you can’t afford insulin.

Possibly the most important person on the health care team is the social worker.  Social workers have an advanced degree in social work.  This education gives the skills to deal with the external factors that impact a person’s situation and outlook.  Pediatric social workers are a critical component of care for our most vulnerable children.  They offer a wealth of information on the various programs that can offer solutions for better health ranging from food and clothing to assistance through the maze of paper work to enroll in school, to obtain funding for health care, or enroll in available programs for food and shelter.  If you know a social worker, thank them for all their care and work.

Dr. Sally Robinson
Clinical Professor, Dept. of Pediatrics

Keeping Kids Healthy
Published 04/2023


Also See:  

UTMB Pediatrics - Pediatric Primary Care
UTMB After Hours Urgent Care
UTMB Clear Lake Hospital - Pediatric ER & Inpatient Unit

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