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What Are Social Determinants of Health?

Updated: Mar 19, 2020

There’s a new hot-button topic in the field of poverty prevention: social determinants of health. What does it mean and why does it matter?

Social determinants of health are factors of our physical, emotional and social environment that have key impacts on our health. This means everything from culture to quality of job training to mental health to weight to social support contributes to a person’s overall health. In fact, 80% of our health outcomes are determined by our environment

So clearly, the best way to help low-income individuals is to change their environment. Which is easier said than done. However, there are a few places – like improving the physical home environment and some social barriers – that help reduce social determinants of health.


Many people must make a hard choice between paying to heat their home and affording basic needs. If their appliances are old, installed wrong or broken they can become impossible to use. Some homes are so poorly insulated that families have their heat turned on and run multiple space heaters – which release fumes into the air and can be a fire hazard – and still need to dress warmly indoors.

No one should have to make that choice. That’s why the NCCAA administers the Duke Energy Carolinas (DEC) Income-Qualified Weatherization Program. This program reduces energy consumption for income-qualified customers by directly installing energy-efficient measures and providing education on energy efficiency. Weatherization can be as simple as installing new appliances or fixing broken ones.

Upgrading Their Home Environment:

Thanks to funds by Duke Energy Programs and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, we are also able to go into people’s homes to improve their living environment in ways weatherization doesn’t cover. This includes replacing old carpet with hard surface flooring, installing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, treating mold, installing exterior ramps and staircases, treating pest infestations, and correcting other hazardous situations. These are services that these families can’t afford, but that have a dramatic impact on their health and well-being.

Sampson County: “Amy” and their two children had plumbing issues that were causing moisture damage in their home. Additionally, their hot water heater was located outside the home which made it energy inefficient and quick to deteriorate. The Healthy Home Initiative fund corrected the plumbing issues in the home and installed an “Aqua Box” to insulate and shelter the hot water heater. She said, “I am so grateful that there are programs like this, as we could never have afforded this service. I give you a 10!”

Avery County: The “Taylors” are an older couple. "Doris” is providing care for her husband who is gravely ill. During the in-home assessment, she insisted on providing grapes to the agency staff as it was the only fresh food she had in the home. She had purchased the grapes from a local food pantry. The couple relies on food boxes delivered to their home for nutrition. Healthy Home Initiative funds were used to replace the front and back storm doors in their home as the existing doors allowed air to come in the home and were coming unhinged and dangerous to use. Doris said, “We are so blessed! I’m so glad that the cold air isn’t coming in around the door. We could have never afforded the services that were provided to us.”

Replacing a storm door reduced the energy required to heat or cool the Taylor's home, while the aqua box prevented disaster for Amy and treating the mold improved the health of her family.

Eliminate Stigma Through Awareness:

We strongly believe that people who are aware of the plight of low-income communities are empowered to make the greatest difference. That’s why we provide poverty simulations – to help locals living far above poverty understand the struggles of poverty and why it’s so hard to escape it. We also provide case manager and Head Start certifications so more people can touch the lives of low-income individuals. This kind of education changes the culture and attitudes of the public, which reduces stigma and encourages growth for both the community and low-income individuals looking to leave poverty.

Want to Help?

There are many ways you can help us fight poverty in North Carolina:

  • Donate | We use your money to help run our programs, and provide training that helps organizations and individuals make their way to self-sufficiency. You can donate on our web page or support your local community action agency.

  • Volunteer | We can’t do this alone. Join us! Contact your local community action agency and check out their website for volunteer opportunities.

  • Become a Member | Did you know you can become a Community Action Member? Membership provides discounted rates to our training sessions and events, an inside look into our organization and more. Membership fees start at only $25 a year for an individual or $300 for an agency.

  • Partner with Us | We are humbled by the many non-profit and for-profit organizations that partner with us to bring services, educations and events to North Carolina. If your organization is looking for a non-profit to partner with, please consider us. Email us at We would love to hear from you!

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