Across the country, there is a strong belief that the United States is spending far too much on health care. Though many of the solutions to runaway costs are evergreen – cutting waste, addressing misaligned incentives – there is increasing attention around a more novel and holistic approach to controlling costs: social determinants of health.

Social determinants of health, which include factors outside of the health system that nonetheless affect well-being, such as housing and education, are increasingly tied to health outcomes, but we lack reliable evidence to indicate where and how much to invest in these areas. In his new role as principal investigator for Harvard Global Health Institute’s Drivers of Health project, Harvard health economist and New York Times contributor Austin Frakt is working to dig deeper on this issue.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-funded program examines how we can quantify the impact of investments in social determinants of health on the health system. The group developed a framework to analyze existing evidence and consult with experts to assess what is known about the social determinants of health, identify gaps and propose new research in the space.

The connection between what makes us healthy and what we spend on being healthy is often misaligned, and this project is another step in asking the difficult, but important, questions to understand the key factors that influence our health and by how much. There are many questions that remain unanswered, but programs like Drivers of Health and Going Below The Surface are working to understand and make progress in filling in those gaps.

Read the Drivers of Health blog and learn more about opportunities to contribute to the project.