Social Determinants of Health

Worldwide health disparities are a stark and persistent problem that seem to be growing worse. In the United States alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that people with lower incomes have shorter lives and worse health than more affluent Americans, and gaps in life expectancy by socioeconomic status are increasing over time. Racial inequalities in health also persist: Infants born to black women are up to three times more likely to die than those born to women of other races.

How health is impacted by social factors like discrimination and stigmatization has been historically understudied. But today, an increasing focus on health disparities by governmental bodies calls for a new generation of professionals who can translate scientific findings on these issues into policy and practice.

The Social Determinants of Health Certificate provides a strong, interdisciplinary foundation in social theory, as well as the methodological tools needed to work in this area of public health. Graduates are prepared for a variety of careers in policy development, research, and public health intervention.

Admissions Eligibility

Social Determinants of Health is open to Columbia MPH students in:

The Competencies for this Certificate are as follows:

  1. Apply core theories of social stratification, inequality, and social justice to public health examples and cases 
  2. Apply social theories and concepts to the study of health etiology using appropriate methods from epidemiology and the social sciences 
  3. Assess the role of the social gradient in health and social disparities in health 
  4. Analyze different levels of social and epidemiologic analysis and their relative contributions to explicating social determinants of health 
  5. Evaluate gaps in present knowledge in the social etiology of health outcomes

Learn More

Visit the Certificates Database to learn more about core and credit requirements.

Sample Courses

Social and Economic Determinants of Health

This course familiarizes students with the ways in which health and illness are determined by social and economic determinants. Focusing on several salient factors, the course asks questions like: How should we conceptualize health and risk factors? What do people need to have or do to be healthy? What processes, structures, and situations are likely to be harmful to health? What are the social and economic conditions that influence all of the above? The course pays special attention to how these issues play out for African-Americans, as social and economic constructs in the United States are strongly linked to race.

Social Epidemiology

This course focuses on the branch of epidemiology concerned with how social arrangements, processes, and interactions shape health and disease distribution in the population, and produce social inequalities in health. As the sub-discipline of social epidemiology has grown dramatically in the past decade and is now an established field of etiologic inquiry, this course familiarizes students with the key theories, concepts, methods, findings, and ongoing debates in social epidemiology. Through lectures, readings, and discussions, students review the major social determinants of health, the theories and empirical evidence of how social conditions "get under the skin," and the methodological challenges involved in measuring social phenomena and making causal inferences about the relationship between social factors and health. By the end of the course, students understand the theoretical, substantive, and methodological parameters of this growing sub-discipline of epidemiologic inquiry, and are able to evaluate both its strengths and limitations.

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