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Exploring the Social Determinants of Health: Education

The building blocks of a truly healthy community must consider the social determinants of health (SDOH) — the cultural and environmental factors that drive health, or in many cases, lack of health.

Let’s consider the model of SDOH offered by Healthy People 2020 (with just a few minor adaptations of my own). This model organizes SDOH into five main clusters — or domains — as shown in the graphic below.


This article will explore the domain related to education. Educational achievement is a key driver of economic well-being/earning potential, which, in turn, is a determinant of health. 

Follow the Basics

The Basics is an upstream/primary population health intervention designed to address educational disparities by supporting brain development in babies from age 0 to 3.

The foundation of education begins long before a child enters kindergarten or even preschool. Babies’ brains are amazing and complex. During the first few years of life, the brain develops rapidly — generating more than a million neural connections per second. In fact, 80% of a child’s brain growth happens by age 3. 

The Basics are five simple principles a parent, grandparent or any child caregiver can use to stimulate brain development in babies and give every child the best possible start.  


Hospitals can improve the health status of the community by recognizing education as a social determinant of health and enhancing educational opportunities by offering the Basics during prenatal education, at pediatricians’ offices and through community health education programs.

The program can be even more effective through socioecological saturation — that is, engaging community partners in supporting the Basics. This allows parents and caregivers to hear the same message from their health care providers, as well as from schools, libraries, work, health departments, churches, day care centers, hair salons and the like. 


Development of the Basics

Ronald Ferguson, Ph.D., an economist, recognized that lifelong educational, emotional, physical and economic well-being is dependent upon a solid foundation of early cognitive development. In his role as director of the Harvard Achievement Gap Initiative, with support from the Black Philanthropy Fund and input from the Department of Pediatrics at Boston Medical Center, Dr. Ferguson founded the Boston Basics in September 2016. The program has now spread to more than 30 locations around the country.

Join the Basics

The Basics principles are based on solid research, and the materials are open source. Partners can download an array of English and Spanish materials — flyers, videos and implementation guides — from the online toolkit. Materials may be co-branded (after review by the Basics team). 

To Learn More

To learn more about the Basics and how you can address health, educational and economic disparities and give every child a healthy start, contact Susan Dubuque at 804.783.8140, ext. 305, or sdubuque@ndp-agency.com.

Susan Dubuque is a principal and co-founder of NDP, a full-service advertising, branding and digital marketing agency headquartered in Richmond, Virginia, and a nationally recognized expert in behavioral marketing. She literally wrote the book on marketing’s role in health improvement — Gearing Up for Population Health: Marketing for Change, published by the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development of the American Hospital Association (2018). 

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