Image of mother and child, fruits and vegetables, and a relaxed woman.

Social Determinants of Health

Five Things to Help You Think Differently: Issue 16

Posted: Apr 29, 2015

With a million demands on your time and attention every day, it’s hard work to stay up-to-date on the latest trends in communications and social change. That’s what we’re here for—to help you think differently. Five Things is where we share ideas to inspire you.

The World Health Organization defines health as a “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” It’s a broad understanding, which factors in all kinds of social determinants of health. At Pyramid we look at health holistically, too.

Health begins in our homes, workplaces, schools, and community. Its maintenance and treatment ranges from meditation to food to housing to education. These are five initiatives we love, all committed to improving the well-being of individuals and communities across the nation, and which challenge us to think differently about health.

1. Fresh food, fresh ideas

For people on government food assistance, affording fresh, healthy food can be a struggle. The Fair Food Network’s Double Up Food Bucks program works to change that. For each food stamp dollar spent on fresh fruits and vegetables at local farmers markets and grocery stores, Double Up Food Bucks matches it—effectively doubling the amount participants on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) have to spend. This month, the Fair Food Network received a $5.1 million grant from the USDA to grow and expand their program. It’s creating food access for all and supporting the local economy—a win-win for health!

2. Health tools at your fingertips

In this age of technology, individuals are using the tools at their fingertips. Apps such as MyFitnessPal, Couch to 5K, and FitBit help people track their caloric intake and maintain fitness routines. The new Apple Watch brings the ability to monitor vital signs and chronic conditions. And GreyMatters is new tablet app that helps people with dementia connect with their family members through photos and songs. It gives people the resources and tools they need to personally take control of their health in a variety of ways.

3. Minding your health

Stress, depression, and anxiety are not only symptoms of physical ailments, but they can cause physical health problems as well. When experiencing these symptoms, it can be difficult to feel any control over them, as they can increase if left alone. This is where mindfulness meditation comes in. Meditation changes the way our brains respond to the world around us; and as anxiety and stress decrease, physical ailments decrease as well. So much, in fact, that meditation has become an increasingly regular part of treatment for chronic illnesses, as well as part of preventative health. Mindfulness meditation can play a powerful role in improving mental and physical health.

4. Starting at birth

Breastfeeding is one of the best ways to ensure maternal and child health from birth. Numerous studies have shown that breast-milk provides the vitamins and nutrients needed to prevent illnesses, protects from obesity, and decreases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Additionally, it can reduce the mother’s stress-level and risk of post-partum depression. However, Native American mothers have the second lowest breastfeeding rates in the nation, and rates of Native American children with obesity and diabetes is on the rise. With help from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Indian Health Service (IHS) hospitals created 13 Baby-Friendly IHS hospitals. By emphasizing breastfeeding and baby-friendly practices, they’ll be able to prevent bigger health problems down the road.

5. Home for health

When you’re experiencing homelessness, the struggle for safety often overshadows health needs, until small problems become a visit to the ER. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that ending homelessness is critical to improving the overall health and well-being of people experiencing homelessness. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, Portland’s Central City Concern is a national model for community transformation—one person at time. Central City Concern integrates housing options with direct social services including healthcare, recovery, and employment. Organizations like Central City Concern offer a valuable model for approaching and responding to homelessness as a matter of health.

Image Credits: brenneman | Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0; RelaxingMusic | Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0; Markybon | Flickr CC BY 2.0.