Often individuals aren’t simply just unhealthy. Rather, there are social and environmental factors that prevent them from being able to be healthy. The World Health Organization describes social determinants of health as “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. The social determinants of health are mostly responsible for health inequities – the unfair and avoidable differences in health status seen within and between countries.” The social determinants of health include but are not limited to economic stability, education, social and community context, health and health care, and neighborhood and built environment.
Community health workers are trained to connect individuals with the resources that they need to overcome these social determinants of health. This allows clients to focus on promoting their health, preventing illness, or treating and/or improving health issues. Community health workers are integral in this way because they often provide this support in collaboration with health care teams who are unable to 1) commit the necessary time to addressing a client’s social determinants of health, and/or 2) understand their client’s unique health context because they are not from the community in which their client lives, works, and plays. Because community health workers are from or having a uniquely close understanding of the community their clients are from, they are able to offer effective solutions and/or resources to address a client’s social determinants of health.