Health is affected by a range of social and economic conditions. Approximately 40 percent of health status can be attributed to underlying factors such as income, employment, education, food, housing, transportation, social support, and safety. These social factors can have positive or negative effects on health.

In addition, factors such as race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, disability, and age can influence health status. For example, in 2017, 22 percent of Black households and 18 percent of Latinx households reported food insecurity, while the national food insecurity rate was 12 percent. Addressing both individual and systemic barriers to health is critical to meet the healthcare triple aim.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated unmet social needs given unemployment and physical distancing, among other reasons. In a 2019 McKinsey Consumer Health Insights Survey in the United States, 48 percent of the Medicaid population reported food insecurity, and the number of individuals facing food insecurity is projected to increase by more than 40 percent in 2020 compared with 2018 levels. Some law enforcement agencies have also seen more than a 30 percent increase in domestic violence calls. Finally, there are disparities in COVID-19 illness and death by race and ethnicity.

Opportunities for innovation we are pursuing include advanced analytics to identify and predict those who may benefit from interventions to address unmet social needs, design of interventions tailored to the needs and assets of individuals and communities, and development of value-based models and integrated incentives to address health more holistically. Given the adverse effects of COVID-19 and associated public health measures, we are also supporting efforts to ensure that individuals with unmet social needs are supported during the immediate crisis and its aftermath.

Featured insights


Insights on racial and ethnic health inequity in the context of COVID-19

– McKinsey’s Center for Societal Benefit through Healthcare shares insights on underlying health inequities that contribute... to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color and vulnerable populations.

Rethinking health priorities: A conversation with Vivek Murthy

– The former US surgeon general discusses COVID-19 and a path forward for a healthier, stronger, and more resilient society.

COVID-19 and student learning in the United States: The hurt could last a lifetime

– New evidence shows that the shutdowns caused by COVID-19 could exacerbate existing achievement gaps.

Adapting healthcare to COVID-19: An interview with the CEO of Boston Medical Center

– Kate Walsh shares how Boston Medical Center, New England’s largest safety-net hospital, has had to adapt to the pandemic—and why... there’s no going back.

Safely back to school after coronavirus closures

– As they consider the path to reopening schools, systems can consider three questions: when to reopen, for whom, and with what... health and safety precautions in place.

Food security and the coronavirus crisis: A view from Feeding America’s COO

– Katie Fitzgerald discusses the efforts of Feeding America, a national hunger-relief organization, to obtain and distribute food... amid the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.

COVID-19: Investing in Black lives and livelihoods

– The unfolding public-health and possible economic disaster of the pandemic will disproportionately affect Black Americans—unless... stakeholders respond immediately.

The case for accelerating financial inclusion in black communities

– A lack of financial inclusion for black Americans exists at every level of the financial system. Understanding the sources of... exclusion is the first step to fixing the system.

Understanding the impact of unmet social needs on consumer health and healthcare

– Income, employment, education, food security, housing, transportation, safety, and social support are all factors that affect... health and well-being.

Why does prosperous King County have a homelessness crisis?

– A careful analysis reveals a primary driver of homelessness in Seattle and King County and a costly, multifaceted solution to... the problem.

The role of academic-based health systems: An interview with Catherine Jacobson and Thomas Zenty

– Catherine Jacobson, president and CEO of Froedtert Health, and Thomas Zenty, CEO of University Hospitals, explain how their academic... medical centers and academic-based health systems are finding their niche in the healthcare ecosystem. As these centers develop, how do changing consumer expectations and social determinants of health change their vision for the future?

Why social determinants matter for children’s health: An interview with Michael Fisher

– The president and CEO of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital explains how social determinants of health (e.g., education, housing,... social support) affect children’s health outcomes, and how organizations that invest and intervene early can generate both near- and long-term value.

Homelessness in the San Francisco Bay Area: The crisis and a path forward

– Homelessness in and around the San Francisco Bay Area continues to rise. Coordinated efforts among governments, nonprofits, and... the private sector could stem the crisis and spark progress.

Addressing the social determinants of health: Capturing improved health outcomes and ROI for state Medicaid programs

– The social determinants of health (SDoH) strongly contribute to variations in health status. Addressing SDoH can help ensure access... to high-quality care, improve outcomes, and manage costs.

Insights from McKinsey's Consumer Social Determinants of Health Survey

– Survey findings shed light on how social determinants of health affect healthcare utilization rates and consumers interest in... social program offerings.

How states can improve well-being for all children, from birth to age five

– State governments have a unique opportunity to improve children’s developmental trajectories. An integrated approach can... help.

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