The media is an important social institution that has a key role to play in improving the health literacy of the public, policymakers and journalists themselves. Improving health literacy is essential for achieving improved understanding of the implications of health and other sectors’ policies. Health literacy facilitates participatory and transparent approaches to policy-making, which are prerequisites for strengthening action on social determinants of health. The media includes the information and communication units of health administration, national public health institutions and other arms of government. Beyond publishing reports and press releases, these institutions` role is to improve the health literacy of health journalists more broadly.


Building public awareness and engaging national, sub-national and local stakeholders in the sustainable development agenda is critical for successful implementation of the SDGs. It is also necessary to ensure public support for the SDGs by linking the global agenda to local and individual concerns, like health. Unfortunately, the dominant concept of health visible in the media is the absence of disease, or of immediate, severe threats for disease (e.g. radiation). This is so in spite of the evidence on which the WHO definition for health is based. For example, the Health Foundation from the UK found that most of the general population surveyed thought that medical services were most important for health and that health was an individual responsibility (source: While access to medical services is extremely important for good health, many other factors related to conditions of daily work and living affect health over time. Even access to health care is not determined by individuals, but by the financing systems provided for them. This means that health cannot be an individual responsibility alone but is also determined by the societies we live in, in other words the social determinants of health.

The WHO definition of health describes health as ‘more than the absence of disease’. A state of health refers to happiness and well-being, underpinned by the science on the importance of high-performance at the cellular level to ensure resistance to disease and support longevity. Far before illness appears, many different stressors in daily life influence our systems at a cellular and genetic level, and in turn our children’s health prospects – material stresses like the chemicals we are exposed to over several years, but also psychosocial stresses, like the threat of violence in unsafe neighbourhoods.

The media, including social media, are essential mechanisms and tools for creating greater public health awareness in populations. This will enable public health evidence to increase its influence and impact on the determinants of health and health equity, which can be leveraged through the SDGs. Action on the SDGs means acting on the determinants of health and well-being.

Importantly, media wanting to contribute to this shift can develop special interest stories providing clear narratives on the determinants of health and health equity. Framing of the issues to touch the reality of the societies we live in is essential for increasing understanding on interrelated determinants and health equity, which at the same time will also support engagement with the SDGs.