About the Center on Society and Health

The VCU Center on Society and Health (formerly the VCU Center on Human Needs) is an academic research center that studies the health implications of social factors—such as education, income, neighborhood and community environmental conditions, and public policy. Its mission is to answer relevant questions that can "move the needle" to improve health of Americans and present our work in formats and venues that are useful to decision-makers and change agents. The Center pursues these goals through collaboration with scholars in different disciplines at VCU and other institutions, and by nurturing partnerships with community, government, and private-sector stakeholders.  

The Center has chosen not to be all things to all people. Although our work spans all geographic levels—international comparisons between the US and other countries, conditions affecting Americans nationwide, the health of states, and studies of cities, communities, and neighborhoods—our focus in all these efforts is on drawing the connections between society and health. 

The Center limits its work to research for policy service and does not engage in advocacy. Its role is to present objective, independent analysis and not to promote policy initiatives or take sides. The Center is not a funding entity, nor does it sponsor extramural research by others. 

History, and the VCU Center on Human Needs

The VCU Center on Society and Health was chartered in 2007 by the Board of Visitors at Virginia Commonwealth University as the VCU Center on Human Needs. The name was changed in 2013 to reflect a shift in the Center's mission and portfolio to focus on the intersection of social factors and health. 

The Center's original name grew out of its signature project on societal distress, the term used by the Center to describe living conditions that do not satisfy basic human needs. Human needs have been the subject of an extensive literature. Abraham Malsow (1908-1970), John Rawls (1921-2002), Amartya Sen (1933-), and other philosophers have sought to define the basic living conditions that all people require. For example, in A Theory of Human Need (London: Macmillan, 1991), the medical ethicist Len Doyal and the political economist Ian Gough argued that physical health and personal autonomy are the basic needs of all persons. 

The work of the VCU Center on Human Needs originally focused on documenting the prevalence of societal distress in five domains: food security, housing, education, income, and health. This flagship project was funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. 

Over time, the work of the Center turned increasingly to social determinants of health and to raising awareness among policymakers and the public about the health consequences of social factors outside the clinic. In 2013, the Center changed its name to the VCU Center on Society and Health to reflect this shift in mission, but concern about the basic needs faced by all members of society remains the core of its work.