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The social determinants of health, which coincidentally are the social determinants of park use (credit)

At this point, is it safe to assume that the term “social determinants of health” is readily understood? What about “social determinants of park use?” Can we also work towards consensus that these two terms describe the same barriers, for both health and parks?

Social determinants of health (SDH)  are factors outside of an individual’s genetic makeup that influence a person’s entire health. SDH focus less on DNA factors, but more on the societal, community factors that determine access, amount, and quality of prevention and treatment a person receives. Not having health insurance covering the cost of treating an overactive thyroid problem is an SDH. Not being able to find a therapist who speaks the same language as you is an SDH.

As parks inventory their programs and activities to figure out how to bring more residents to the great outdoors, they are finding more and more that there are a set of barriers that create social determinants of park use (SDPH). Uncoincidentally, these barriers look very much like SDH. Here are a few examples that illustrate the convergence of SDH and social determinants of park use:

  • Capital: Families that are middle class or above are more likely to be healthier and live longer lives. Additionally, most park users (especially for national parks) are middle class and can afford the time and travel costs associated.

  • Natural environment: Children who grow up in neighborhoods with lots of gang violence are more likely to be affected by a confluence of many social determinants of health, but they also experience much higher probabilities of fatality due to gun violence. Not surprisingly, neighborhoods with gang violence often see their parks be commandeered to be convening grounds for gang activity; parks are therefore systematically avoided by the community.

It is not a coincidence that SDH and SDPU are aligned in these substantial ways. Most parks were built around the idea of improving community health; Central Park in NYC was intended to be a natural refuge from the mechanical toils of factory work.

As National Public Health Week focuses on positioning the country to be the healthiest nation by 2030, we should pay special attention to nontraditional community health stewards that are already part of the community infrastructure. Mitigating social determinants of park use will be much like mitigating social determinants of health; we will have to be diligent about using resources to uplift the communities especially suffering from these social determinants. 

Taking care of a community's health starts at making sure everyone has health coverage, but it doesn't end there. Giving all fourth graders a pass to visit America's national parks is a great first step, but it doesn't end there. To ensure that communities especially feeling the compounded effects of social determinants use their parks and live their healthiest lives, we have a special obligation to dedicate more resources to these specific communities. For a healthier nation in 2030, the onus cannot be on a single mother of two to wait 2 hours in a waiting room to be seen by a physician. As well, the onus cannot be on families living in neighborhoods plagued by gang violence to seek out safer parks.

To create a healthier nation by 2030, systems of care need to be changed and improved so that everyone gets timely care from health care providers, and cities need to work together to reduce gang activity and ensure that every park, no matter their location, is a safe park. 

Bonus activity: Can you think of anything that could not be considered a social determinant of health or park use? It's harder than you'd think. 

Tags: health, hphp, parkrx
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