Judy Lubin, an adjunct professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminology at Howard University, says that current research shows that over 50 percent of a community’s health is determined by social factors. For instance, recent studies stress that one’s neighborhood is a strong determinant of well-being. The difference in life expectancy between St. Louis’s wealthiest and poorest zip codes is at least 12 years.
Lubin notes that this environment-centered way of thinking has roots in the advent of public health more than a century ago, when officials focused on improving residents’ environment through sanitation to stop the spread of communicable diseases. Scholars of color, particularly black scholars, have also long recognized the strong link between environment and health. W.E.B. DuBois, for example, chronicled the social factors that led to the ill health of African Americans in a Philadelphia neighborhood in 1899’s The Philadelphia Negro.
Yet for much of the twentieth century, many public health leaders emphasized individual control over well-being. A fixation on diet, exercise, and other life choices made good health the result of virtue and poor health a personal failing. While an individual’s choices certainly play a role in their health, Lubin says that understanding patients’ social contexts is critical to advancing the medical profession. Read more at CityLab