Social determinants of health and diabetes: A scientific review

Felicia Hill-Briggs, Nancy E. Adler, Seth A. Berkowitz, Marshall H. Chin, Tiffany L. Gary-Webb, Ana Navas-Acien, Pamela L. Thornton, Debra Haire-Joshu

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Decades of research have demonstrated that diabetes affects racial and ethnic minority and low-income adult populations in the U.S. disproportionately, with relatively intractable patterns seen in these populations’ higher risk of diabetes and rates of diabetes complications and mortality (1). With a health care shift toward greater emphasis on population health outcomes and value-based care, social determinants of health (SDOH) have risen to the forefront as essential intervention targets to achieve health equity (2-4). Most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted unequal vulnerabilities borne by racial and ethnic minority groups and by disadvantaged communities. In the wake of concurrent pandemic and racial injustice events in the U.S., the American College of Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, Society of General Internal Medicine, National Academy of Medicine, and other professional organizations have published statements on SDOH (5-8), and calls to action focus on amelioration of these determinants at individual, organizational, and policy levels (9-11). In diabetes, understanding and mitigating the impact of SDOH are priorities due to disease prevalence, economic costs, and disproportionate population burden (12-14). In 2013, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) published a scientific statement on socioecological determinants of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes (15). Toward the goal of understanding and advancing opportunities for health improvement among the population with diabetes through addressing SDOH, ADA convened the current SDOH and diabetes writing committee, prepandemic, to review the literature on 1) associations of SDOH with diabetes risk and outcomes and 2) impact of interventions targeting amelioration of SDOH on diabetes outcomes. This article begins with an overview of key definitions and SDOH frameworks. The literature review focuses primarily on U.S.-based studies of adults with diabetes and on five SDOH: Socioeconomic status (education, income, occupation); neighborhood and physical environment (housing, built environment, toxic environmental exposures); food environment (food insecurity, food access); health care (access, affordability, quality); and social context (social cohesion, social capital, social support). This review concludes with recommendations for linkages across health care and community sectors from national advisory committees, recommendations for diabetes research, and recommendations for research to inform practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)258-279
Number of pages22
JournalDiabetes care
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Advanced and Specialized Nursing
  • Internal Medicine
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism


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