Track and field superstar Allyson Felix, who recently became the most decorated athlete in the sport, has partnered with health benefits company Anthem to spread awareness about its new health study, What's Driving Our Health, that examines how Americans think about health and the social drivers affecting certain communities. 

Social drivers of health or SDoH are identified as "conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, and play that affect a wide range of health and quality-of-life risks and outcomes." 

Understanding that looking and even feeling healthy could lead to false perceptions about health issues, Felix, who suffered preeclampsia giving birth to her daughter, told Blavity that being the spokesperson for this study is important to her. 

"I think I had almost taken my health for granted," Felix told Blavity. "I went through my own personal experience — I'm an athlete, I'm healthy, this is a part of my lifestyle — and then I had severe complications giving birth to my daughter and I never thought I would be in that situation. But there is so much more to it — there are so many issues that can look great from the outside, but just aren't the case when you really get into it." 

According to Anthem's findings, Americans overestimate how well they're doing healthwise. Eighty-five percent of surveyed individuals reported having a healthy diet, while 77% reported being physically fit. However, these claims are in direct conflict with CDC findings that show "37% of Americans are overweight and many are not meeting healthy lifestyle expectations." 

Dr. Shantanu Agrawal, Chief Health Officer for Anthem, Inc., said he believes the root of this overestimation comes from previously viewing health through a more narrow lens. 

"Typically, we think about health as a product of the medical care we receive," Agrawal told Blavity. "However, we often don’t consider all of the other factors that go into our well-being, particularly mental health, the safety of our environment, or our ability to consistently access nutritious food. By taking a narrow, more clinical health focus, it can be easy to view ourselves as healthy if we’ve avoided a major medical emergency and feel well enough to go about our normal routines. It is clear to us at Anthem, however, that it is critical to take a broader approach to understand how factors like education, geography, race, mental health, and more impact our levels of whole health."

The study, broken into four themes — Connecting the Dots on Whole Health and Its Drivers; Lived Experience, Equity, and Perceptions of Whole Health; The Impact of Financial Security; and Consumer Expectations for a Healthier Future — found that "social drivers of health consequences are prevalent and disproportionately affect certain groups, including people of color." 

Such disparities include access to healthy food and medical care facilities, as well as affordability of resources and cost of living inequities per community. 

"Many Americans, especially those in communities of color, are facing significant financial burdens. This financial insecurity, and the limitations it can place on meeting basic social and health needs, is a key driver of consumers’ health," the report states. 

As such findings represent what some may call a generational curse, the data seek to repeal the "that's just the way it is" mindset that people living amid the aforementioned conditions may possess. Felix understands that some may still choose to take that stance. 

"I think I can definitely understand that mindset and it can be a bit overwhelming, but I think it's more about having that conversation," she said. "What really stood out to me are the things that we just don't typically associate with health — transportation, air quality, and a lot of things that you're just born into — for me, that's very concerning and very alarming. These things are affecting communities at a different rate, especially in my [Black] community, I see that the social drivers are a real issue."

She said she especially considered the impact to elders in the Black community who throughout the years have been able to influence the health behaviors of those around them. 

"I was very much impacted by my elders and family members and their experiences," Felix said. "[While reviewing report data] I did think about the older generation and how sometimes I think findings like this may take them a little longer to wrap their minds around it. I think we get very set in our ways and we've done things for so long in a certain way that change can be hard.

A huge part for me is the awareness and to be able to do something about it as well," she later added.

Agrawal said Anthem's next steps will include a series of conversations to influence change. 

"Change will take action from all sectors of industry, community and individuals," Agrawal said. "While changes to key SDoH elements won’t come overnight, we do not believe that the circumstances facing Americans are unchangeable. Change can come, and it begins with understanding the issues and developing programs that can bring about a meaningful difference. We hope that we can build momentum around this conversation and equip people with the right information to collectively make a difference at both the local and national levels."

"We're calling on everyone to help us seize this current moment to deepen our understanding of whole health, what drives it, and how we can make it better," he continued. "Only then will we be able to address health challenges and strengthen the system for generations to come."

Felix wholly supports the sentiment. She said she believes opening up these pointed discussions will help people better understand that even though there are disparities, recognizing these social drivers can lead to necessary change. And, if nothing else, people will know that they are not alone in their experiences. 

"Going through certain things and hearing other people's stories made me feel like I wasn't alone," Felix said. "When you go through something that's really traumatic, you can feel like you're the only one, and just hearing that other people have been through something similar gives you strength. I hope that just using my platform that I'm able to do that as well. 

According to Anthem, "the What's Driving Our Health study was conducted among a nationally representative sample of 5,000 U.S. adults above the age of 18. Participant data was collected via a 25-minute, online survey. The margin of error for the national sample is +/-1.4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The sample is nationally representative according to the U.S. Census on overall age, gender, region, urban/rural, and ethnicity/race."

You may view the full report, including key findings here