How Social Determinants of Health Contribute to Malnutrition
Social determinants of health are the conditions in the environments where people live, learn, work, or play that affect health, functioning, and quality-of life. Malnutrition can be driven by social determinants of health, including poverty or economic instability, access to affordable healthcare and low health literacy.
Financial instability can lead to a lack of access to nutrient-dense foods or food insecurity, which has had a significant global impact. Underserved communities are often considered “food deserts” because of the lack of access to supermarkets which provide affordable and healthy foods. Many low-income countries may also heavily rely on staple foods – like rice or potatoes – limiting nutrient-dense foods like fruits and vegetables due to cost.
Accessing affordable healthcare can be a challenge for many living in underserved communities. There are several factors that could prevent people from receiving healthcare, including financial instability, the location of health services or limited transportation options. This can impede people’s access to health screenings that can help identify and treat health issues or prevent the onset of chronic diseases.
Living in underserved communities, many people may also not have information or resources on how healthy lifestyle interventions – like improving nutrition – can help them maintain or improve their health. This can affect nutrition decisions and ultimately overall health. Empowering people with nutrition education is key for preventing and treating malnutrition.
Impact of Malnutrition on Underserved Communities
Malnutrition has long-term effects on people’s health and economic stability. Undernutrition can increase the risk of illness and infections and cause longer recovery times. This can have significant economic impact due to the costs for obtaining medical care or lost wages due to missing work.
Globally, approximately 1.9 billion adults and 38.9 children are overweight. Being overweight or obesity – which are also forms of malnutrition – can significantly increase the risk for chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes. Chronic diseases also have lifelong impacts on people’s health and economic impacts due to the cost for medical care and treatment.
Supporting Underserved Communities
Governments, non-profits, private and public organizations, and community groups can support underserved communities experiencing malnutrition by addressing the social determinants of health and building more health equity through key partnerships.
Abbott’s Future WellTM Communities program aims to fight chronic diseases like diabetes by addressing the social and economic barriers to good health and partnering with local governments and organizations to remove these barriers. The program aims to:
- Increase access to transportation services for medical appointments
- Provide nutrition and health education programs
- Create diabetes educational programs for healthcare workers
- Expand access to healthy produce in food deserts
From a global perspective, Abbott and the Abbott Fund has partnered with Americares and Giao Diem Humanitarian Foundation (GDHF) since 2006 to support the GDHF’s Pediatric Nutrition Program. This program aims to improve the nutrition of preschool-age children in rural Vietnam by increasing access to nutritious, locally sourced foods at schools, training school staff to prepare nutritious meals and providing nutrition education to local families. Since the partnership began, the prevalence of malnutrition among participating children has decreased to less than 20%.
Tackling social determinants of health is key for addressing malnutrition in underserved communities. Removing social and economic barriers that can impact health and expanding access to nutrient-dense foods can help prevent and treat malnutrition in underserved communities.
1. WHO. Malnutrition Q&A. April 2020.