Health of Societies

Societies COVID-19 has underscored a crucial aspect of public health: It is hard to be a healthy individual in an unhealthy society. Health and well-being at the individual and population levels depend on more than genetic factors and lifestyle choices. Conditions in which people live, study, work and age, as well as their access to health care — known as the social determinants of health — influence people’s behavior as well as health outcomes.

Inequalities in education, occupation, working conditions, income and wealth — often along gender, racial and ethnic lines — result in disparities in health and health care. These disparities harm disadvantaged groups as well as societies overall. Within countries, poorer population groups have lower life expectancies and spend more of their shorter lives in poor health or with disabilities. Across countries, more unequal societies have worse health outcomes compared to societies with fewer disparities.

This is a policy issue and a business challenge. Societies COVID-19 Societal health impacts businesses greatly, and businesses in turn have an influence on health determinants and outcomes.

Businesses Affect People’s Health Directly and Indirectly

Businesses may affect societal health determinants directly such as by providing access to affordable housing or health care and by supporting charities and civil society organizations, or indirectly through lobbying for policies and regulations at local government, national or multinational levels.

In terms of costs incurred, health care costs and productivity loss due to chronic diseases cost the U.S. economy $3.7 trillion in 2016, equivalent to one-fifth of the country’s GDP at the time. The burden of disease is, in part, shaped by business impacts on the social determinants of health and access to health care for a wide range of stakeholders in society.

As employers, businesses set the working conditions of employees and indirectly affect living conditions and life chances — or opportunities to improve one’s quality of life — for employees and their families. Good work — characterized by living wages, adequate support and job control, work-life balance, skills and career development, inclusive cultures, and so on — is good for employees’ health. There are also indirect impacts, such as on food, housing and energy security for employees and their families, their access to education and health care, and their retirement savings.

As corporate citizens and members of communities in which they are located, businesses can also shape the physical environment (such as by polluting or protecting air or water), and social capital and community resilience (by helping or hindering social equity, connections, and capabilities).