Health is more than a good blood pressure reading or a healthy weight on your scale. When we think about what shapes our health, we often focus on genetics, diet, and exercise. However, there's a broader framework that significantly impacts our health and well-being: social determinants of health (SDOH). While we often think of socioeconomic status, education, and access to healthcare as key SDOH, there is another often-overlooked determinant with a profound impact: voting.
How do Social Determinants of Health Impact your Health?
Social determinants of health social factors account for around 50-70 percent of what drives health outcomes (1). Imagine two families living in the same neighborhood, but their access to healthy food differs significantly:
Family A: This family resides in an urban area with multiple supermarkets, farmers' markets, and affordable grocery stores nearby. They have the financial means to purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. Additionally, they have access to nutrition education and resources, allowing them to make informed dietary choices.
Family B: In contrast, Family B lives in a food desert, an area with limited access to affordable, nutritious food. The nearest grocery store is several miles away, and public transportation options are limited. As a result, Family B relies on the nearest convenience store for most of their food shopping, which mainly offers processed and unhealthy options. They struggle to afford fresh produce and other essential nutritious foods due to limited financial resources.
The differences in access to healthy food directly impact the health of these two families:
Family A: Thanks to their access to nutritious food options, they are more likely to maintain a balanced diet and meet their nutritional needs. This contributes to lower rates of obesity, lower risks of chronic diseases (such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes), and better overall health and well-being.
Family B: Limited access to healthy food makes it challenging for them to maintain a balanced diet. As a result, they are at a higher risk of diet-related health issues, including obesity, malnutrition, and chronic diseases.
This example illustrates how social determinants of health, such as access to healthy food, can lead to health disparities and unequal health outcomes among different populations. Addressing these disparities often involves policy changes and community initiatives, aiming to create more equitable health conditions for all.
Looking Beyond the Ballot
Voting is a key determinant of health, yet it is often overlooked. It goes beyond being a mere civic duty; it is a powerful mechanism for shaping policies that have profound implications for our community’s health and well-being. For instance, access to safe and affordable housing, a critical social determinant of health, is frequently determined by policies that can be influenced through the electoral process. When individuals vote for candidates and policies that support affordable housing initiatives, they actively contribute to efforts aimed at reducing homelessness, alleviating overcrowding, and minimizing housing-related stress.
Furthermore, the role of taxes in funding affordable housing programs and subsidies cannot be overstated. Elected officials have the responsibility of allocating tax revenue, and their decisions play a pivotal role in determining the availability of affordable housing options.
Similarly, zoning and land use policies exert a substantial influence on the allocation of essential resources, including healthcare facilities, grocery stores, and green spaces in communities. These policies can either reinforce or alleviate health disparities. Participating in the democratic process, individuals can advocate for officials who endorse inclusive zoning policies. This, in turn, encourages the development of neighborhoods that promote physical activity, provide better access to healthcare services, and offer fresh and healthy food options.
Moreover, government-funded programs are a significant example of why your vote matters. These programs serve as lifelines for many, offering access to vital services such as healthcare, education, and social support. By voting for officials who prioritize adequate funding for these programs, individuals play a crucial role in ensuring those in need have equitable access to these essential resources. Voters actively address health disparities and promote health equity, while also tackling broader social determinants of health rooted in economic and social disparities. Your vote is not just a choice; it's a catalyst for positive change in the health and well-being of all community members.
Voting in Kansas
To be eligible to vote, you must be a U.S. citizen and a Kansas resident, and you must be at least 18 years old on or before Election Day. Don't forget to verify your registration status and polling location before each election to ensure a smooth voting experience.
On Election Day, you should visit your assigned polling place, which is determined based on their registered address. When you arrive at your polling place, you must present an acceptable form of ID, such as a driver's license, state ID card, or a government-issued photo ID. If you do not have a photo ID, you can provide an alternative form of ID, and you will be allowed to cast a provisional ballot. Remember, it's crucial to review the specific guidelines and requirements on the Kansas Secretary of State's website or contact your local county election office to ensure you meet all the necessary criteria for voting in Kansas.
Get to the Polls
As the municipal vote draws near, with the general election date set for November 7th and advance voting concluding on November 6th, it's a crucial time for Kansans to understand the significance of these elections. Municipal elections are held at the local level and are vital for the governance of cities, towns, and other local jurisdictions. In Kansas, these elections determine who will occupy positions such as mayors, city council members, school board members, and other local officials. The outcomes of municipal elections directly influence the policies and governance of individual municipalities, affecting various aspects of community life, including education, public safety, zoning regulations, and local infrastructure development.
Municipal elections in Kansas are an opportunity for residents to actively engage in the democratic process and have a say in the leadership of their local communities. These elections often focus on issues that directly impact the daily lives of residents, making them of great significance in ensuring the well-being and progress of cities and towns throughout the state.
1. Explore health rankings: County health rankings model [Internet]. [cited 2023 Oct 26]. Available from: https://www.countyhealthrankings.org/explore-health-rankings/county-health-rankings-model