Developing actionable evidence on the factors that shape the well-being of people and places

The Urban Institute’s Social Determinants of Health initiative analyzes how social, economic, and environmental factors—where we live, learn, work, and age, and whether our communities are safe and supportive—affect people’s health and well-being at every stage of life. Our health is profoundly shaped by these nonmedical circumstances, known as social determinants of health. And it’s partly because of differences in where people call home and the opportunities available to them that we see large disparities in people’s overall well-being and life expectancy.

Experts from across Urban contribute to the Social Determinants of Health initiative with insights to inform policies and programs that can set individuals, families, and entire communities on a path toward better health. By investigating the complex conditions that influence people’s lifelong well-being, we help stakeholders identify links between social and economic policies and health outcomes. And by delivering timely analyses of the impacts of income supports, housing subsidies, nutrition assistance, and more, we deepen understanding of how these policies and practices affect people’s well-being and promote or threaten equity. Our efforts include the following:

Identifying promising solutions that promote health and equity. Urban leads the Policies for Action national research program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, providing groundbreaking research on the root causes of population health, well-being, and equity in the United States and identifying potential policy solutions, both inside and outside the health care system.

Advising on strategies to advance well-being in cities. We help communities around the country address obstacles to people’s well-being with insights and strategic, evidence-based advice. For example, after collaborating with leaders in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to examine how unattended mental illness affected their city, Urban delivered evidence-informed recommendations for how the education, housing, justice, and other sectors can help revamp the mental health system. Today, Tulsa is moving forward on multiple fronts in the wake of our work together.

Partnering with and convening changemakers. Our team collaborates with diverse leaders and organizations to bring to life research about the social determinants of health. With Harlem-based City Health Works, Urban created and distributed short documentaries about health coaching, a practice that empowers people living with chronic disease to better manage their illnesses. We also brought together practitioners and policymakers to discuss effective models for community health care workers and innovative strategies to address the social determinants of health.