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Social determinants of health

Read an introduction to determinants of health that impact Australia's First peoples. Explore social, cultural, racism and political determinants.
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© Griffith University

Did you know ‘culture’ and ‘racism’ are now recognised as key determinants of health for Australia’s First Peoples? Let’s find out more about these and other determinants of health.

You may have heard the term ‘social determinants of health’ before. These are the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live and age. They include the wider set of forces and systems shaping the conditions of life, such as economic policies, social norms, social policies and political systems (WHO, 2016).

However, when it comes to First Peoples health, the social determinants approach fails to consider the dramatic impact outside forces such as culture and racism have on health.

We’re going to explore the concept of racism more deeply in a moment, but first let’s look at the concept of culture as a determinant of health.

Culture as a determinant of health

‘The social determinants approach to health and wellbeing appear to reflect a deficit perspective – demonstrating poorer health outcomes for those from lower socioeconomic populations, with lower educational attainment, long term unemployment and welfare dependency and intergenerational disadvantage…current studies show that strong cultural links and practices improve outcomes across the social determinants of health (Brown, 2013).’

In other words, the cultural determinants of health approach is a strengths-based approach. It acknowledges the importance of building on the strengths of First Peoples through the protection and promotion of:

  • traditional knowledge and practices
  • family and kinship
  • connections to country and community.

This is a key reason why we’re excited to share knowledge of First Peoples’ culture and history with you. With greater knowledge and understanding, First Peoples ways of doing, being and knowing can be acknowledged, protected and celebrated.

In your work as a social or health care professional, you are uniquely placed to advance the health status of First Peoples by supporting the client’s real need to maintain strong ties to their culture. There are significant benefits associated with doing so.

For example, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan 2013-2023 acknowledges that maintaining strong connections to culture is an important protective factor, underpinning the health of First Peoples.

Cultural determinants acknowledge that stronger connections to culture and country build stronger individual and collective identities, a sense of self-esteem, resilience, and improved outcomes across the social determinants of health including education, economic stability and community safety (Brown, N.D.).

Your task

What cultural group/s do you belong to?

Cultural is a significant component of our identity. Take a few minutes to reflect on how your sense of identity would be affected if your culture was not recognised. What would be the emotional and mental health implications? Post your thoughts in the comments link below.


Brown, N. (2013). Culture is an important determinant of health. NACCHO Aboriginal Health News Alerts.

© Griffith University
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