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Soc Sci Med. 2011 Mar;72(5):789-97. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.01.002. Epub 2011 Jan 27.

Deliberation to enhance awareness of and prioritize socioeconomic interventions for health.

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  • 1National Institutes of Health, Department of Clinical Bioethics, Building 10, Room 1C118, 10 Center Drive MSC 1156, Bethesda, MD 20892-1156, United States.


Health disparities are, to a large extent, the result of socio-economic factors that cannot be entirely mitigated through the health care system. While an array of social services are thought to be necessary to address the social determinants of health, budget constraints, particularly in difficult economic times, limit the availability of such services. It is therefore necessary to prioritize interventions through some fair process. While it might be appropriate to engage in public deliberation to set priorities, doing so requires that the public accept such a deliberative process and appreciate the social determinants of health. We therefore analyzed the results of a study in which groups deliberated to prioritize socio-economic interventions to examine whether these two requirements can possibly be met and to explore the basis for their priorities. A total of 431 residents of Washington, D.C. with incomes under 200% of the federal poverty threshold participated in 43 groups to engage in a hypothetical exercise to prioritize interventions designed to ameliorate the social determinants of health within the constraints of a limited budget. Findings from pre- and post-exercise questionnaires demonstrate that the priority setting exercise was perceived as a fair deliberative process, and that following the deliberation, participants became more likely to agree that a broad number of determinants contribute to their health. Qualitative analysis of the group discussions indicate that participants prioritized interventions that would provide for basic necessities and improve community conditions, while at the same time addressing more macro-structural factors such as homelessness and unemployment. We conclude that engaging small groups in deliberation about ways to address the social determinants of health can both change participant attitudes and yield informed priorities that might guide public policy aimed at most affordably reducing health disparities.

Published by Elsevier Ltd.

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