Study shows political ideology determines health behavior, especially during pandemic

When considering determinants of an individual’s health outcomes, doctors and researchers consider personal factors like age, race, gender or socioeconomic factors such as education quality, economic stability or health care access. A new study from the University of Kansas adds to the evidence that political ideology can be a social determinant of health, especially during public health crises.

Researchers have long considered that a person’s association with an ideological view may have bearing on on a long-term basis, such as embracing bans on public smoking to prevent lung cancer, or opposing vaccines due to concerns about secondary effects, but the COVID-19 pandemic provided a unique opportunity to study how it plays into during a public emergency. For the study, the authors conducted two surveys and a on ideology and health, finding that did influence attitudes and health behavior during the pandemic.

“What this study shows is political partisanship and ideology seem to be one of the most significant drivers of health behavior when it comes to COVID-19,” said lead author Mugur Geana, associate professor of journalism and director of KU’s Center for Excellence in Health Communications to Underserved Populations. “The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines social determinants of health as the conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, play, worship and age that affect a wide range of . Because ideology depends on group affiliation and influences interpersonal relationships, we think it should also be considered a social determinant of health.”

That finding is especially important to remember in a time of significant political polarization in the United States, wrote Geana and co-authors Nathaniel Rabb and Steven Sloman of The Policy Lab at Brown University. The study was published in the journal SSM-Population Health.

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