Data, Social Determinants, and Better Decision-making for Health: the 3-D Commission

Olivia Biermann, Meggie Mwoka, Catherine K. Ettman, Salma M. Abdalla, Sherine Shawky, Jane Ambuko, Mark Pearson, Zahra Zeinali, Sandro Galea, Blessing Mberu, Laura Magaña Valladares

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


More than a decade after the World Health Organization Commission on the Social Determinants of Health (SDoH), it is becoming widely accepted that social and economic factors, including but not limited to education, energy, income, race, ethnicity, and housing, are important drivers of health in populations. Despite this understanding, in most contexts, social determinants are not central to local, national, or global decision-making. Greater clarity in conceptualizing social determinants, and more specificity in measuring them, can move us forward towards better incorporating social determinants in decision-making for health. In this paper, first, we summarize the evolution of the social framing of health. Second, we describe how the social determinants are conceptualized and contextualized differently at the global, national, and local levels. With this, we seek to demonstrate the importance of analyzing and understanding SDoH relative to the contexts in which they are experienced. Third, we problematize the gap in data across contexts on different dimensions of social determinants and describe data that could be curated to better understand the influence of social determinants at the local and national levels. Fourth, we describe the necessity of using data to understand social determinants and inform decision-making to improve health. Our overall goal is to provide a path for our collective understanding of the foundational causes of health, facilitated by advances in data access and quality, and realized through improved decision-making.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4-14
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Urban Health
StatePublished - Aug 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Data
  • Decision-making
  • Frameworks
  • SDoH
  • Social determinants of health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Urban Studies
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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