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Taking stock of the social determinants of health: A scoping review

The authors of this scoping review argue that there has been a dramatic increase in focus on the social determinants of health (SDH) in recent years and that it is time to build on earlier attempts to synthesize the literature on SDH. The review included academic and grey literature from the fields of population health, public health and health promotion.

The paper describes the ways the SDH have been presented and communicated in grey and peer-reviewed literature, including:

  • A list of influential factors
  • Conceptual models
  • Stories or narratives
  • Different epistemologies

The authors describe one theme that emerged prominently during their analysis: health equity as an overarching theme and binding concept for the SDH. They describe how equity is conceptualized in different ways, depending on whether it is intended to align with more upstream or downstream orientations for action. Conceptualizations of equity also influence how ideas associated with the social gradient and socioeconomic position are used.

The authors note a significant gap in the literature for articles published outside of the global north, and recommend that the importance of global justice and fairness in relations between wealthy and poor nations be recognized and this gap in SDH literature addressed.

This review is intended to support those working and studying in the areas of population health, public health, and health promotion.

Use this resource to:

  • Identify the different ways the SDH are presented and communicated in the literature
  • Explore the impact of how the SDH are conceptualized and thereby influence resulting actions and interventions
  • Strengthen the link between proposed actions on the SDH and health equity in public heath practice


Lucyk K, McLaren L (2017). Taking stock of the social determinants of health: A scoping review. PLoS ONE 12(5): e0177306.

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Tags: Critical works in health equity, Key concepts, Knowledge translation , Document

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