Stanford Medicine magazine spotlights social determinants of health, the nonmedical factors that make or break us | News Center

“The color of your skin, the community you belong to, and the place you call home remain the biggest predictors of health and longevity. Much more than your doctor or what’s written into your DNA,” Stanford School of Medicine Dean Lloyd Minor, MD, writes in the new issue of Stanford Medicine magazine.

Special report of the publication, Health in the Real World: How Social Factors Make or Break Us, features articles on the ways in which nonmedical factors—such as education, food security, housing, income, race, and social support—can enhance or hinder our health. Also included are articles on efforts to promote health equity.

As Stanford Medicine experts explain in the issue’s lead article, these nonmedical factors, called social determinants of health, are receiving a new focus at Stanford Medicine and throughout the health profession—an attention spurred by the police killing of George Floyd and the COVID-19 pandemic. disproportionate impact on people of color.

“Understanding that the social determinants of health can limit a patient’s ability to consider clinical trials, for example, allows us to try to remove these barriers, as an institution and as clinicians,” neuro-oncologist Riena Thomas, MD, PhD, clinical assistant professor of neurology and neuroscience, the lead article said.

Published research on the social determinants of health has increased 600% in the past decade, with a sharp increase since 2020, and clinicians like Thomas are caring for patients with the knowledge that non-medical factors influence their patients’ health.

Also in the issue is a Q&A with Stanford University’s newest Nobel laureate, Dr. Carolyn Bertozzi, on why she likes to collaborate and what makes collaborative efforts successful, as well as several articles focusing on basic human biology, specifically the process used by cells to make proteins.

The Social Determinants of Health Thematic Package includes:

· A review of educational, clinical, research and community initiatives addressing the challenges presented by the social determinants of health—from screening pediatric patients for food insecurity; to the first large-scale national survey of LGBTQ health; to a partnership with the Roots Community Health Center clinic to identify needs and challenges in using telehealth services.

· A story about the challenge of coping with breast cancer when your culture considers talking about breasts taboo. This article focuses on research by Dr. Ranak Trivedi, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, on the experiences of South Asian women in the US with breast cancer.

· A Q&A with health equity expert Dr. Alice Adams, Stanford’s first professor of innovation in medicine, in which she talks with Priya Singh, Stanford Medicine’s chief strategy officer and senior associate dean, about what motivates her and what gives her hope when it comes to improving the health of underserved populations.

· A look at what’s behind the extraordinary longevity and health of people in Nicoya, Costa Rica and several other places around the world known as Blue Zones. The article describes research by David Rehkopf, ScD, associate professor of epidemiology and population health, which shows that certain social factors can keep cells young.

· An article highlighting the work and perspectives of Stanford Health Care clinicians providing care to homeless individuals at Peninsula Healthcare Connection in Palo Alto, California.

· A film about pediatrician Anisha Patel’s quest to fight childhood obesity through safe, attractive drinking water. Research conducted by Patel, an associate professor of pediatrics, helped justify legislation requiring schools to provide free water. Through her partnerships with schools in the San Francisco Bay Area, she is also exploring ways to encourage children to drink water rather than soda or juice.

The issue also contains two articles on protein synthesis:

· A discussion of ribosomes, the molecular machines that convert mRNA into proteins, explains the astonishing research by Dr. Maria Barna, associate professor of genetics, that overturned a central dogma of genetics. Her work shows that ribosomes are unexpectedly picky about which genes they translate, which has major implications for biomedical research.

· A look back at the making of the 1971 cult classic film, Protein Synthesis: An Epic at the Cellular Level, which gleefully depicts—through dance, psychedelic music, and “Jabberwocky”-inspired poetry—how proteins are made. The film features a young professor, Paul Berg, Ph.D., who later won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and a cast of dozens of Stanford University students.

Stanford Medicine the journal is available online at as well as in print. Request a copy by emailing [email protected]

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