Good health. It seems so straightforward. Eat right, exercise and get regular checkups. Yet achieving – and maintaining – good health is a battle that many Americans are losing every day. Some of the factors affecting our health we certainly can influence on our own; many of the factors, however, are outside our individual control.
Where we live, work, learn and play dramatically affects the health of all Americans – for better or for worse. The sometimes toxic relationship between how we live our lives and the economic, social and physical environments that surround us has resulted in some of America's most persistent health problems. At the same time, improving conditions in our homes, schools, workplaces and communities can help create greater opportunities for healthy lives.
Social factors can affect health directly and indirectly as their effects accumulate across individuals' lifetimes and across generations, leading to vicious cycles between social factors and health. Although genes and medical care also are important, social factors probably play a greater role than either, and interact with both. Fortunately, many social factors can be influenced by policies and programs.