Social determinants of health in Mexico

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Social determinants of health in Mexico are factors that influence the status of health among certain populations in Mexico. These factors consist of circumstances in which people grow, live, work, and age, as well as the systems put in place to deal with illnesses.

In Mexico, the health inequality among the population is influenced by such social factors. In the past decade, Mexico has witnessed immense progress within their health care system that has allowed for greater access to health care and a decrease in mortality rate, yet there are still various health inequalities caused by social factors.

Flag of Mexico


Social determinants of health are useful when identifying risk factors that affect the health of an individual or group. Health is defined as "the overall condition of someone's body or mind".[1] As accessed by the World Health Organization, some major determinants of whether one is healthy or not include "the social and economic environment, the physical environment, and the person's individual characteristics and behaviours".[2] Social determinants of health, as described by the World Health Organization, include income and social status, education, social support networks, health services, gender, employment status and conditions, and race and ethnicity.[2]


In Mexico, poverty is reported using the Multidimensional Poverty Index and the Human Development Index. Together, these indicators suggest the overall poverty gradient of Mexico. The government’s social development agency reported a 0.6 percent drop of Mexico’s poverty rate from 2010 to 2012, but there are still 53.3 million people under the poverty line.[3] A major effect of this poverty rate is the continuation of a huge wealth gap.[4] Although there is a huge gap between the top ten percent and the bottom ten percent, Mexico has seen an increase in the percentage of Mexicans who are within the middle-class category.[5][6]

The poverty within Mexico can be separated into two categories: moderate and extreme. Both categories total to about 45.5 percent of the total population of 117.3 million people.[7] According to El Consejo Nacional de Evaluación de la Política de Desarrollo Social, also known as Coneval, there was a decrease in the percent of the Mexican population in extreme poverty, but an overall increase in the number of people that fall under the poverty line.[7] The study showed that the extreme poverty rate fell from 11.3 percent to 9.8 percent, while the moderate poverty rate increased from 34.8 percent to 35.6 percent.

The correlation between poverty and health can be described as a negative relationship in which as poverty increases, health decreases.[8] With a low income, families do not have the desired access to nutrition, resources, and health care as well as a means to reach these necessities.


Gender is a major factor that influences the health inequity hiamong the Mexican population. There’s a certain gender bias within general health and specific diseases. Gender inequality can be described as “the departure from parity in the representation of women and men in key dimensions of social life.”[9] In Mexico, machismo still affects many parts of the country and the effect that it has on gender roles in a patriarchal society. According to the World Health Organization, a major step towards improving the overall health of the population would be gender empowerment.[10] According to the 2012 National Survey of Health and Nutrition (ENSANUT), 38 percent of Mexican women aged 20–29 suffer abuses at home with more than 34.9 percent in public.[11] With results like these, Mexico witnesses a huge gender bias that could explain major problems that emerge from within the household as well as those that partake in the work force. In the Mexican work force, women generally receive lower wages than men, even with educational levels taken into consideration.[12] The median wage for female skilled technicians is 97.3 percent of what their male counterparts make, teachers with 97.6 percent, and female industrial supervisors make 68.4 percent of what males make in that same field.[12] The gender inequity can be emphasized with the fact that there has not been "a female head of state and has had very few female cabinet members.”[12] This explains the "26 percent of equality with men in the political sphere" and that of "42 percent within the economic and legal spheres."[9] This gender inequality produces a gender bias that favors men. Women then lack the necessary access to resources such as medical care, transportation, and nutrition.[8]


Level of educational attainment is a major determinant of health in Mexico. More education generally leads to increased income, better employment opportunities, and improved living conditions; these, in turn, lead to improved health.[10] The educational system in Mexico has witnessed low enrollment as well as low student-achievement.[13] According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Institute for Statistics, 99% of children are enrolled in pre-primary school.[14] Furthermore, 96% of girls and 95% of boys are in primary school.[14] Evaluating data on secondary schools across the nation, only 69% of girls and 66% of boys are enrolled in secondary education.[14] The data also shows that 28% of the population of tertiary age are in tertiary education.[14]

The low enrollment can be correlated with the need for Mexican families to utilize all means to an income and having the whole family seek employment, even at a young age.[13] A factor that can affect the low student-achievement is the matter of children lacking focus as a result of nutritional deprivation.[13] Health indirectly influences education in the same way that education indirectly influences the health of an individual.


Location affects overall health and "chances of leading flourishing lives".[10] Location affects the daily living conditions that people endure which in turn affects health equity. There are various differences between urban and rural living conditions.[10] According to the 2011 Latin American Report on Poverty and Inequality, over the past decade, both national and urban inequality have decreased, yet rural inequality has increased.[15] World Bank data reports that about 61% of those living in rural areas live in extreme poverty.[15] The major causes for such social and economic gaps between these two sectors come from "a manifestation of spatially-differentiated patterns of economic development".[15][16] A major factor to such disparity is the "absence of rural development policy planning", especially because the "highest public spending on rural development benefits the country’s richest states".[15][16]


Urban areas seem to be overpopulated with almost one-third of the population living in four major metropolitan areas-20 million people living in Mexico City alone. This major urbanization represents the differences in living standards as well as access to health and social services. The lack of adequate housing within urbanized cities represents a major problem.

According to research conducted by the Office of Population Research from Princeton University, the main causes of mortality in rural areas are infectious diseases and malnutrition.[17] Moreover, chronic disease and other health problems associated with industrialization dominate mortality within urban areas.[17] A report from the World Health Organization states that about 32% of the total urban population in Latin America dwell in slums.[10] Slums do not provide the best access to sufficient living conditions. The same report details "the shift in population levels of weight towards obesity" due to nutrition transition that begins in cities.[10]


Rural regions in Mexico comprise more than 80% of the land and house around 37 million people (36% of the population).[18] These statistics confirm that Mexico is the country with "the largest population [that lives] in predominantly rural areas" within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.[18] Additionally, the standards of living in rural populations are much lower than its urban counterpart and the gap is larger than OECD standards.[18] The major drawbacks are the lack of good shelter, adequate drainage, and access to electricity.[18] Within dispersed rural areas, about 68% of the houses had a solid floor, 52% had drainage, yet 87% had electricity.[18]

Steps for improvement[edit]

In the mid-1990s, the Secretaría de Desarrollo Social introduced the Oportunidades program (formerly known as PROGRESA), which is a multi-sector policy that brought upon conditional cash transfers.[18] Oportunidades dispenses money directly to poor households in return the families send their children to school, health services, and provide them with better nutrition by attending classes.[18][19][20] Results from a study published in 2004 show that there have been improvements in overall health associated with better outcomes in child health, growth, and development.[18][19][20][21]

SEDESOL logo 2012

In 2003, Mexico's Congress enacted reforms to Mexico's health legislation that aimed at making health care available nationwide.[22] Mexico's former Minister of Health, Julio Frenk, as the original architect, implemented Seguro Popular which has insured 52.6 million previously-uninsured Mexicans.[22] With the implementation of this universal health care, more Mexicans can now access the health services in their community.[22]

In 2008, the World Health Organization's Commission on Social Determinants of Health developed a plan of action to tackle the problems that social determinants of health have on health equity. The recommendations consist of "improving daily living conditions, tackle the inequitable distribution of power, money, and resources, and measure and understand the problem and assess the impact of action."[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Health". Retrieved 20 October 2013.
  2. ^ a b World Health Organization (2013). "The determinants of health". Retrieved 19 October 2013.
  3. ^ Cohen, Luc (July 29, 2013). "Mexico's poverty rate dips but little cheer for the needy: report". Reuters. Retrieved 19 October 2013.
  4. ^ BBC News (October 26, 2004). "Mexico has 'giant wealth divide'". BBC News. Retrieved 18 October 2013.
  5. ^ Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative (May 22, 2012). "Mexico's middle class gaining from economic growth; Canada and the U.S. trailing". Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives News Releases. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
  6. ^ William Booth; Nick Miroff (December 19, 2012). "As Mexico claws toward prosperity, some in middle class slide back". Washington Post. Retrieved 19 October 2013.
  7. ^ a b Redaccion Animal Politico (July 29, 2013). "1.4 millones de mexicanos dejan la pobreza extrema entre 2010 y 2012". Animal Politico. Retrieved 17 October 2013.
  8. ^ a b Mosley, W. Henry; Lincoln C. Chen (1984). "An Analytical Framework for the Study of Child Survival in Developing Countries". Population and Development Review. Population Council. 10: 25–45. doi:10.2307/2807954. JSTOR 2807954. PMC 2572391.
  9. ^ a b Frias, Sonia (2007). "Measuring Structural Gender Equality in Mexico: A State Level Analysis" (PDF). Springer Science+Business Media B.V. Retrieved 17 October 2013.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g World Health Organization (2008). "Closing the Gap in a Generation- Health equity through action and the social determinants of health" (PDF). Geneva: World Health Organization. Retrieved 19 October 2013.
  11. ^ JP Gutiérrez; et al. "Encuesta Nacional de Salud y Nutricion: Resultados 2012" (PDF). Instituto Nacional de Salud Pública.
  12. ^ a b c Rhoda, Richard. "Female quality of life in Mexico". Retrieved 19 October 2013.
  13. ^ a b c Santibanez, Lucrecia; Georges Vernez; Paula Razquin (2005). Education in Mexico: Challenges and Opportunities. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation.
  14. ^ a b c d United Nations Educational, Scientific; Cultural Organization. "Education (all levels) profile - Mexico". Retrieved 20 November 2013.
  15. ^ a b c d IFAD (2012). Poverty and Inequality: Latin American Report 2011. Santiago, Chile: IFAD. ISBN 978-956-9153-03-7.
  16. ^ a b IFAD (2012). Rural poverty in Mexico (PDF). IFAD.
  17. ^ a b Smith, Kimberly; Goldman, Noreen (October 2007). "Socioeconomic differences in health among older adults in Mexico". Social Science & Medicine. 65 (7): 1372–1385. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2007.05.023.
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h OECD (2007). OECD Rural Policy Reviews: Mexico 2007. OECD Publishing. ISBN 9789264011526.
  19. ^ a b Levy, Santiago (2006). Progress Against Poverty: Sustaining Mexico's Progresa-Oportunidades. Brookings Institution Press. ISBN 9780815752219.
  20. ^ a b Rivera, JA; D Sotres-Alvarez (June 2004). "Impact of the Mexican Program for Education, Health, and Nutrition (Progresa) on Rates of Growth and Anemia in Infants and Young Children: A Randomized Effectiveness Study". JAMA. 291 (21): 2563–70. doi:10.1001/jama.291.21.2563. PMID 15173147.
  21. ^ Fernald, Lia C.H.; Paul J Gertler; Lynnette M Neufeld (8 March 2008). "Role of cash in conditional cash transfer programmes for child health, growth, and development: an analysis of Mexico's Oportunidades" (PDF). The Lancet. 371 (9615): 828–837. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(08)60382-7. PMC 2779574. PMID 18328930.
  22. ^ a b c Frenk, Julio (August 16, 2012). "The quest for universal health coverage: achieving social protection for all in Mexico" (PDF). The Lancet. Retrieved 16 October 2013.