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Context: The reduction of health inequities is a broad and interdisciplinary endeavor with implications for policy, research, and practice. Health inequities are most often understood as associated with the social determinants of health (SDOH). However, policy and programmatic frameworks for mitigation often rely on broad SDOH domains, without sufficient attention to the operating mechanisms, and effective SDOH mitigation strategies remain scarce. To expand the cadre of effective SDOH mitigation strategies, a practical, heuristic framework for policymakers, practitioners, and researchers is needed that serves as a roadmap for conceptualizing and targeting the key mechanisms of SDOH influence.
Methods: We conduct a critical review of the extant conceptual and empirical SDOH literature to identify unifying principles of SDOH mechanisms and to synthesize an integrated framework for conceptualizing such mechanisms.
Findings: We highlight eight unifying principles of SDOH mechanisms that emerge from landmark SDOH research. Building on these principles, we introduce and apply a conceptual model that synthesizes key SDOH mechanisms into one organizing, heuristic framework that provides policymakers, practitioners, and researchers with a customizable template for conceptualizing and operationalizing the key SDOH mechanisms that represent intervention opportunities to maximize potential impact for mitigating a given health inequity.
Conclusions: Our synthesis of the extant SDOH research into a heuristic framework addresses a scarcity of peer-reviewed organizing frameworks of SDOH mechanisms designed to inform practice. The framework represents a practical tool to facilitate the translation of scholarly SDOH work into evidence-based and targeted policy and programming. Such tools designed to close the research-to-practice translation gap for effective SDOH mitigation are sorely needed, given that health inequities in the United States and in many other parts of the world have widened over the past two decades.
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The Milbank Quarterly is an editorially independent multidisciplinary journal that offers in-depth assessments of the social, economic, political, historical, legal, and ethical dimensions of health and health care policy.