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MSN Course Insight: Five Determinants of Health

Study alongside Walden University students with this required reading taken from the Master of Science in Nursing course “Role of the Nurse Leader in Population Health.”

The quality of any person’s health over a lifetime is hard to predict, but certain factors can play a significant role in how healthy we remain and what diseases we might develop or contract. These factors are called determinants of health and understanding them is so vital to advanced nursing careers, they’re studied in many Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) programs.

For example, in the Walden University MSN course “Role of the Nurse Leader in Population Health,” MSN students take a detailed look at the five determinants of health as identified by the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP). Taken from the ODPHP’s page on the matter,1 the five determinants of health are:

MSN Course Insight: Five Determinants of Health


Policies at the local, state, and federal levels affect individual and population health. Increasing taxes on tobacco sales, for example, can improve population health by reducing the number of people using tobacco products.

Some policies affect entire populations over extended periods of time while simultaneously helping to change individual behavior. For example, the 1966 Highway Safety Act and the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act authorized the federal government to set and regulate standards for motor vehicles and highways. This led to an increase in safety standards for cars, including seat belts, which in turn reduced rates of injuries and deaths from motor vehicle accidents.

Social Factors

Also known as social and physical determinants of health, they impact a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes. They include:

  • Availability of resources to meet daily needs, such as educational and job opportunities, living wages, or healthful foods
  • Social norms and attitudes, such as discrimination
  • Exposure to crime, violence, and social disorder, such as the presence of trash
  • Socioeconomic conditions, such as concentrated poverty
  • Quality schools 
  • Transportation options
  • Natural environment, such as plants, weather, or climate change
  • Built environment, such as buildings or transportation
  • Exposure to toxic substances and other physical hazards
  • Physical barriers, especially for people with disabilities  

Poor health outcomes are often made worse by the interaction between individuals and their social and physical environment.

Health Services

Both access to health services and the quality of health services can impact health. For example, when individuals do not have health insurance, they are less likely to participate in preventive care and are more likely to delay medical treatment.

Individual Behavior

Individual behavior also plays a role in health outcomes. For example, if an individual quits smoking, his or her risk of developing heart disease is greatly reduced. Examples of individual behavior determinants of health include:

  • Diet
  • Physical activity 
  • Alcohol, cigarette, and other drug use
  • Hand washing  

Biology and Genetics

Some biological and genetic factors affect specific populations more than others. For example, older adults are biologically prone to being in poorer health than adolescents due to the physical and cognitive effects of aging.

Examples of biological and genetic social determinants of health include:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • HIV status
  • Inherited conditions, such as sickle-cell anemia, hemophilia, and cystic fibrosis 
  • Carrying the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, which increases risk for breast and ovarian cancer
  • Family history of heart disease  

How Can You Help People Stay Healthier?

No matter a patient’s determinants of health, the skills of a nurse can help you provide your patients with the care they need to keep or regain their health. But if you want to take a greater role in improving patient health, you’ll need to advance your career in nursing. And advancing your career typically requires advancing your nursing education by earning an MSN degree.

In an MSN program, you can gain the education and professional qualifications you need to become a nurse practitioner or nurse manager—roles that will give you the ability to be a nurse leader and help more patients. Fortunately for you and other working nurses, earning a master’s degree in nursing is more possible than ever before, thanks to online education.

While campus-based nursing schools typically require you to live close to a campus and attend classes at often inconvenient times, an online nursing school can make your life more manageable. You can complete an online MSN program from home or anywhere else you have internet access. Also, a master’s in nursing online program gives you the flexibility to attend classes at whatever time of day works best for you, making it possible to balance your master’s in nursing program with your job and other responsibilities.

Online learning can help you advance from RN to MSN, even if you’re a full-time nurse. It’s a great way to gain the education you need to address the major determinants of health and help keep your patients healthier.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an Master of Science in Nursing degree program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,