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Health Equity

Social Determinants of Health

How healthy we are is influenced by much more than our biology, genetics and access to health care. It is shaped by the social determinants of health, which are the social, physical, and economic conditions in which we are born, live, work and age. These conditions are interrelated and change over time and across our life span. They can influence the health of individuals, groups and communities in many different ways, both positive and negative. The following listare includes some of the social determinants of health:

  • Income sources
  • Age across the life course (i.e., early childhood, older age)
  • Employment and working conditions
  • Access to health, social and justice services
  • Household food insecurity
  • Indigenous ancestry
  • Housing
  • Built environment (i.e., access to parks and public spaces, safe roads)
  • Transportation
  • Race, ethnicity, culture
  • Social inclusion or exclusion
  • Violence and trauma
  • Educational attainment (the highest level of schooling that a person has reached)

Taking action on the social determinants of health to achieve health equity

The social determinants of health are what cause unfair and avoidable differences in health within and between groups of people. These are called health inequities. Public health has an important role in taking action on the social determinants of health. We do this by planning activities to improve the health of the entire population while reducing the health inequities experienced by certain groups.

This work involves an all-of society approach, from offering resources and supports to individuals or groups based on their level of need, to advocating for healthy public policies at all levels of government. It requires collaborating with many different community partners including those in education, justice, employment, social services, health care and all levels of government, to achieve collective impact.

The following are some examples of how the health unit takes action on the social determinants of health through programs, services, partnerships and advocacy.

Research shows that income is the most important influence on health. Having enough income removes many barriers, stressors and challenges to achieving health. On the other hand, not having enough money leads to increased risks to mental and physical health.

What we do:

The health unit supports income policies such as:

  • Guaranteed basic income - A basic income provides a standard amount of money to ensure that all people can afford the basic things they need to live a healthy life with dignity, such as food, housing, transportation and medical care. A basic income policy has been shown to help improve the overall health and well-being of individuals, families, and communities while saving money on healthcare, economic and criminal justice systems.
  • Living Wage – A living wage is the hourly wage a worker needs to earn to afford the basic expenses in life and participate in their community. A living wage and the minimum wage are not the same thing. A living wage is calculated using community specific data to determine the wage required to cover basic expenses for a family of four.

The experiences that take place during early childhood, including living conditions, access to early education, and bonding and relationship with a caregiver, influence how well a child grows into a healthy adult, how well they do in school, and how well they learn to cope with stress. All these factors play a role in a child’s future education and employment possibilities and the chance for good health.

What we do: 

The health unit offers a range of programs and services related to healthy childhood development, including information and resources for parents on prenatal development, healthy pregnancy, oral health, physical activity, nutrition and social emotional development.

See the following links for more information about programs and services we offer:


Employment with safe working conditions that offer adequate and stable income with benefits is essential to maintaining health and well-being (e.g., able to meet basic needs, offer a positive sense of identity and purpose, social contacts, a structure for day-to-day life, status and recognition).

Some people in Simcoe Muskoka are underemployed, work in low paying jobs, have part time or seasonal work or have poor working conditions. This can put them at risk of stress, injury, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Being unemployed can make it difficult to afford the basic expenses in life, such as housing and food, which has an impact on physical and mental health and well-being.

What we do:

Through public awareness campaigns and involvement in local poverty groups, the health unit encourages the community to advocate to the provincial and federal government for policies and programs that focus on income and employment such as, quality jobs that pay livable wages and benefits.

Having access to health services is an important determinant of health. Accessibility means a person is able to get quality health services when needed, within their community.

People are less likely to get treatment for health issues if they have challenges being able to get health services. Access to health services can be limited by things like, geography, language or cultural barriers, lack of hospitals or urgent care clinics and social economic status.

Though we have universal healthcare in Canada, there are still differences in what people can access. Many services, such as eyecare, some dental care, some pharmaceuticals, and receiving care from complementary health practitioners (i.e., massage or physiotherapy, psychotherapy etc.) are not covered.

What we do:

The health unit offers classes, clinics and services ranging from sexual health clinics, oral health clinics and harm reduction services that promote and protect the health and well-being of people in Simcoe Muskoka. We also offer services in places where people already are, such as schools, where we offer our student immunization clinics, and vision and dental screening in elementary schools.

Click here to learn more about clinics, classes and support groups to meet our community’s needs.

One in five households in Simcoe Muskoka do not have enough money to access enough nutritious food that meets their needs for an active and healthy life. Household food insecurity (the inadequate or insecure access to food due to financial constraints) has been linked to negative health outcomes such as chronic diseases, mental health conditions and shorter life expectancy.

What we do:  

The health unit participates in local poverty reduction work and collaborates with municipalities and community partners to support policy and program changes that can reduce household food insecurity.

Over the past several years our Board of Health has supported calls to the provincial and federal government for a basic income, social assistance rate increases, and access to attainable, affordable housing, childcare and dental care to support reducing inequities that cause household food insecurity.

The health unit  produces the Nutritious Food Basket survey annually to monitor and report on food affordability in Simcoe Muskoka.

More detailed information about household food insecurity in Simcoe Muskoka can be found on our Household Food Insecurity HealthSTATS webpage

Please reach out to us to find out more about collaborating on action to reduce household food insecurity.

In Canada, people who identify as being Indigenous, including First Nations, Métis or Inuit, generally experience poorer health compared to non-Indigenous people. These differences in health are the result of colonialization and government assimilation policies (i.e., the 1876 Indian Act and Indian Residential School System) which have led to physical and emotional harms to Indigenous children, lower education, and loss of culture and language.

What we do:

Building and further developing relationships with Indigenous communities and organizations in a meaningful and culturally safe way is a key requirement under the Health Equity Foundational Standard of the Ontario Public Health Standards (OPHS), 2021, and one that has been welcomed by the Board of Health and staff of the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU).

Read about the health unit’s learning journey and Indigenous Engagement situational assessment conducted to inform the health unit of how to build and maintain meaningful engagement and mutually desired collaborative working relationships with Indigenous Peoples, organizations and communities in Simcoe Muskoka.

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