Social determinants of health and health inequalities 

On this page

Social and economic influences on health

Many factors have an influence on health. In addition to our individual genetics and lifestyle choices, where we are born, grow, live, work and age also have an important influence on our health.

Determinants of health are the broad range of personal, social, economic and environmental factors that determine individual and population health. The main determinants of health include:

  1. Income and social status
  2. Employment and working conditions
  3. Education and literacy
  4. Childhood experiences
  5. Physical environments
  6. Social supports and coping skills
  7. Healthy behaviours
  8. Access to health services
  9. Biology and genetic endowment
  10. Gender
  11. Culture

Social determinants of health refer to a specific group of social and economic factors within the broader determinants of health. These relate to an individual's place in society, such as income, education or employment. Experiences of discrimination or historical trauma are also important social determinants of health for certain groups such as Indigenous Peoples.

Health inequalities in Canada

Canada is one of the healthiest countries in the world.  However, some Canadians are healthier and have more opportunities to lead a healthy life.

Differences in the health status of individuals and groups are called health inequalities. These differences can be due to your genes and the choices you make. For example, whether you exercise or drink alcohol. However, the social determinants of health can also have an important influence on health. For example, Canadians with higher incomes are often healthier than those with lower incomes.

Health inequity refers to health inequalities that are unfair or unjust and modifiable. For example, Canadians who live in remote or northern regions do not have the same access to nutritious foods such as fruits and vegetables as other Canadians.

Health equity is the absence of unfair systems and policies that cause health inequalities. Health equity seeks to reduce inequalities and to increase access to opportunities and conditions conducive to health for all.

Supporting the reduction of health inequalities

Reducing health inequalities means helping to give everyone the same opportunities to be healthy, no matter who they are or where they live.  We are working in a number of ways to reduce health inequalities and address the social determinants of health.

  1. Strengthening the evidence base to inform decision-making
    • The Health Inequalities Data Tool contains a large set of data on health inequalities in Canada by subgroups of the Canadian population.  It was created by the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Pan-Canadian Public Health Network, in collaboration with Statistics Canada, and the Canadian Institute for Health Information.
    • The Key Health Inequalities in Canada: A National Portrait report discusses important health inequalities in Canada. It was developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Pan-Canadian Public Health Network in collaboration with Statistics Canada, the Canadian Institute for Health Information, and the First Nations Information Governance Centre.
    • Data on Indigenous children, and health and development in the early years supports the design of effective early childhood development programs and interventions. These resources were developed by the Canadian Institute of Child Health in partnership with the Canadian Council on Social Determinants of Health and the Public Health Agency of Canada.
  2.  Engaging beyond the health sector

    The Public Health Agency of Canada established the Canadian Council on Social Determinants of Health to work with leaders from different sectors on the social determinants of health and improve health equity. The Council has produced a number of resources and tools, for example:

  3. Sharing knowledge of action across Canada

    Under the Rio Political Declaration on Social Determinants of Health in 2012, Canada and other member states pledged to take steps to improve health equity. We have documented examples of actions across Canada in these areas as part of the following reports:

Report a problem or mistake on this page
Please select all that apply:

Thank you for your help!

You will not receive a reply. For enquiries, contact us.

Date modified: