The Dahlgren-Whitehead rainbow

Health inequalities in society - where your level of health is connected to your socioeconomic level - has led to a growing awareness that many health issues can be determined by social factors. Economic, environmental and social inequalities can determine people's risk of getting ill, their ability to prevent sickness, or their access to effective treatments.

These social health factors have been explored by researchers using several models, but the most widely used is the Dahlgren-Whitehead 'rainbow model'. The model, developed by Göran Dahlgren and Margaret Whitehead in 1991, maps the relationship between the individual, their environment and health. Individuals are placed at the centre, and surrounding them are the various layers of influences on health – such as individual lifestyle factors, community influences, living and working conditions, and more general social conditions.

This framework has helped researchers to construct a range of hypotheses about the determinants of health, to explore the relative influence of these determinants on different health outcomes and the interactions between the various determinants.

The Dahlgren-Whitehead rainbow model remains one of the most effective illustrations of health determinants, and has had widespread impact in research on health inequality and influences.