Let’s Talk Health: Understanding Social Determinants of Health

“This journey is not temporary. It’s a lifestyle,” said Aliya Armstrong, one of the featured speakers at this year’s Let’s Talk Health Faith in Wellness Luncheon, an annual event presented by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

The event held earlier this week welcomed the public to a health-positive discussion of the role of faith communities in community health. This year’s luncheon featured lively conversation of the historical social factors that have contributed to health disparities of minorities, as well as provided ways to engage the faith-based community to embrace their health journey.

Recognizing how health disparities started can help us understand how to improve the disparities faced by minorities. Jacquetta Hinton, program consultant for the Michigan Department of Health and Human services, Health Disparities Reduction and Minority Health Section, discussed how social determinants of health, as opposed to genetics, have negatively affected the health of black communities throughout the nation.

According to the World Health Organization, social determinants of health are “the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels.”

Hilton shared how these determinants throughout the nation’s history have left marginalized minority groups, particularly black communities, with a lack of education and resources for good health. Hinton put it plainly: “Race doesn’t cause illness. Racism causes illness.”

Hinton urges that health care is not enough. There is also a need for education to help improve risk factors that become severe health issues. Organizations can help address the roots of health inequality to provide people with the education and resources they need for good health. She affirms, “change is not easy, but sometimes it is necessary.”

Photo Credit: Katrina Danko
While Hinton spoke of community health on a grander scale, returning speaker Aliya Armstrong shared with attendees ways to personally combat common excuses to avoid making health a priority. As the founder of Sisters Taking Action Reversing Stereotypes (S.T.A.R.S.), she shared easy, fun motivators to keep good health on track. Attendees also participated in simple exercises that could easily be performed at a desk, the grocery store, or even a luncheon.

Armstrong noted that everyone has a health story. Everyone has their own setbacks and their own comebacks. Each person is motivated to improve their health by something different. Despite these differences, Armstrong said each person’s health victory is a “choice.”

The Faith in Wellness Luncheon is part of Let’s Talk Health Week, a week of community programs and events focused on promoting healthier living. Let’s Talk Health Faith in Wellness Luncheon is presented by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan in partnership with the NAACP Grand Rapids.

If you are interested in attending a Let’s Talk Health Week in Grand Rapids, visit here for a list of events.

Photo credit: Philippe Teuwen (feature image), Katrina Danko (thumbnail)

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