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Article

The Political Determinants of Health: A Global Panacea for Health Inequities  

Daniel E. Dawes, Christian M. Amador, and Nelson J. Dunlap

The political determinants of health create the structural conditions and the social drivers—including poor environmental conditions, inadequate transportation, unsafe neighborhoods, poor and unstable housing, and lack of healthy food options—that affect all dynamics involved in health. Globally, recurring examples of the role that these political determinants—through government action or inaction, and policy—are playing in health outcomes and life expectancy, particularly in under-resourced communities, can be observed currently as well as historically. Most notably, the political determinants of health are more than merely separate and distinct from social determinants of health: they serve as the instigators of the social determinants of health with which many people are already well acquainted. They involve the systematic process of structuring relationships, distributing resources, and administering power, operating simultaneously in ways that mutually reinforce or influence one another to shape opportunities that either advance health equity or exacerbate health inequities. Focusing on the political determinants of health homes in on the fundamental causes that give rise to, sustain, and exacerbate the social determinants of health that create and worsen the persistent and devastating health inequities that are observed, experienced, researched, and reported. By employing both a theoretical and practical lens to the amelioration of health inequities that continue to pervade communities across the globe, the article contextualizes many of the historic harms that have occurred throughout history, providing a unique perspective on the current state of affairs, and offering a tangible path forward toward a more equitable future. Furthermore, consideration of this new framework at all levels of government as it relates to improving health outcomes for any nation is imperative in order to eliminate existential threats for any and all populations.

Article

Religion, Aging, and Public Health  

Jeff Levin and Ellen Idler

Religion, in both its personal and institutional forms, is a significant force influencing the health of populations across the life course. Decades of research have documented that expressions of faith and the practice of spiritual pursuits exhibit significantly protective effects for physical and mental health, psychological well-being, and population rates of morbidity, mortality, and disability. This finding has been observed across sociodemographic categories, across nations and cultures, across specific disease outcomes, and regardless of one’s religious affiliation. A salutary religious effect on health and well-being is especially apparent among older adults, but is also observed across generations and age cohorts. Moreover, this association has been persistently found for various religious indicators, including attendance at worship services, prayer and other private practices, subjective feelings of religiosity, and numerous measures of religious behaviors, attitudes, beliefs, and experiences. Finally, a protective or primary preventive effect of religion has been observed in clinical, epidemiologic, social, and behavioral studies, regardless of research design or methodology. Faith-based organizations also have contributed to the health of populations, in partnerships or alliances with medical institutions and public health agencies, many of these dating back many decades. Examples include congregational health promotion and disease prevention programs and community-wide interventions, especially targeting the health and well-being of older congregants and those in less well-resourced communities, as well as faith–health partnerships in healthcare delivery, public health policymaking, and legislative advocacy for healthcare reform. Religious denominations and institutions also play a substantial role in global health development throughout the world, individually and in partnership with national health ministries, transnational medical mission organizations, and established nongovernmental agencies. These efforts focus on a wide range of goals and objectives, including building public health infrastructure, addressing ongoing environmental health needs, and responding to acute public health challenges and crises, such as infectious disease outbreaks. Constituencies include at-risk populations and cohorts throughout the life course, and programming ranges from perinatal care to maternal and child healthcare to geriatric medicine.