History of the Social Determinants of Health

By Sanjoy Bhattacharya, Harold J Cook, Anne Hardy, edited by Orient Blackswan, 2009

Every subject has its history, including the Social eterminants of Health. It is a subject that investigates differences in human health that occur because of social life, from income and class to family life and neighbourhood. Social determinants can have very large effects on longevity, just as do other determinants, such as the provision of medical care or clean drinking water.

A Commission to study the social determinants of health and to propose ways of improving health based upon their analysis was therefore established under the auspices of the World Health Organization and chaired by Professor Sir Michael Marmot. In support of the work of the Commission, therefore, a large international meeting was organised in London in order to bring together some of the members of the Commission and several eminent historians to discuss the historical experience of people from around the globe. Because historians are among those who have tried to assess how social relationships have affected health, they can point to some determinants of health that others might miss, while historical investigations can in turn benefit from knowing what other analysts consider to be the most important social determinants of health. The result produced knowledge of importance to us all. Many of the arguments and evidence are therefore brought together here in one book, so that the work of the Commission and some of the debates it has prompted can be better known.

This is the first volume of its kind to bring historical studies to the investigation of the social determinants of health from a global perspective. It brings together eminent historians of international health to explore an important and topical subject. The contributors summarise a large body of recent historical literature in order to make it useful for policy analysts. It includes a wide range of international examples. It also includes two chapters on different methods of taking oral histories, which is a central concern for anyone who is interested in examining the recent past.

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Also read a review of this book in Frontline magazine