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Analytical View of Social Epidemiology in Healthcare, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

“Social epidemiology is a branch of epidemiology that focuses particularly on the effects of social-structural factors on states of health” (Honjo, 2004). This is explained as the concept of society’s distribution of health and disease being proportionately related to the distribution of society’s advantages and disadvantages among its people. This concept is derived from identifying what common characteristics people have that affect certain patterns of disease and health in society (Honjo, 2004). This concept also raises questions about whether or not certain societal behavioral or lifestyle tendencies cause epidemics of health consequences (good or bad).

Social Epidemiology and Public Healthcare

Social epidemiology’s application to the healthcare field is significant in that adequate healthcare is often only a benefit of people with higher socio-economic statuses. Social class and income distribution are consideration factors in determining social epidemiology levels in society and social purpose fulfilled by social epidemiology.

According to Berkman & Kawachi (2000), the influence of social conditions on public health is not new. Research studies from more than 200 years ago report on how poverty and poor housing and working conditions affected public health in society. Additionally, during a public health movement in the United States and Great Britain in the early twentieth century, overall life expectancy began to increase. This drew attention to the concept of social epidemiology and its relationship between socio-environmental exposures and physical and mental health outcomes, giving way to the concept that social distribution determines states of health of populations in society (Berkman & Kawachi, 2000).

The Population Perspective

In relation to the concept of social epidemiology, Berkman & Kawachi (2000) mention a population perspective which concludes that individuals are part of societies and populations. This means that an individual’s risk of disease or illness cannot be separated from the risk of the population. For example, if an individual lives in a country with a high incidence of heart disease, that individual is more susceptible to developing the disease than someone in a country with less incidences of heart disease. This assessment is based on risk factors for the disease in certain populations, which include risks associated with social behavior.

The Social Behavior Perspective

Studies show “that most behaviors are not randomly distributed in the population. Rather, they are socially patterned and often cluster with one another” (Berkman & Kawachi, 2000, p. 7). The example is given that many people who will drink alcohol will also smoke cigarettes, and other people who eat healthy also exercise on a regular basis. Similarly, poor people are more likely to have more risk-related behavior patterns than health-promoting behavior patterns, simply because they lack the resources to significantly reduce their risks. This theoretically explains why some behaviors are not a matter of individual choice, but of social consequences.

The Theoretical Perspective

Social epidemiology is classified into three main theories, and they are “(1) psychosocial, (2) social production of disease and/or political economy of health, and (3) ecosocial theory and related multi-level frameworks” (Krieger, 2001, para. 6).

The psychosocial theory analyzes paradigms such as not all people exposed to a disease will become infected and not all those infected will develop the disease. This theory hypothesizes that social environments are able to alter overall susceptibility to disease (Krieger, 2001).

The social production of disease and/or political economy of health theory refers to determinants of health being dependent on the benefits of polices and practices in society. This relates to public health, occupational safety and regulatory compliance to protect individuals from health and safety hazards (Krieger, 2001).

The ecosocial theory and related multi-level dynamic perspectives deal with “the importance of social, political, and economic processes in shaping epidemiological profiles” (Krieger, 2001, para. 22). This theory proposes that patterns of health or disease in society are related to biological expressions through social relationships.

Healthy Social Norms and Lifestyle Choices

Healthy social norms and individual healthy lifestyle choices impact the health of Americans today, and show that social epidemiology does not just have a negative connotation to it. According to Fisher (2010), people who spend time with fit, healthy friends often keep fit and healthy themselves. “A study of 3,610 Australian women found that physical activity and healthy eating behavior were both strongly affected by social norms” (Fisher, 2010). The study concluded that a healthy social environment influences health-promoting behaviors by association of social support and social norms for promoting physical activity and healthy eating habits. Therefore, the study shows that healthy behaviors can be part of a social epidemic just like negative behaviors.

Conclusion

The science of social epidemiology is, without a doubt, necessary for continuous research of causative factors of disease in society and how best to deal with them. The science can also assist in determining distribution of health and disease factors and how they relate to advantage and disadvantage distributions in society. Perhaps, with further study and analysis, society can find better ways of eliminating health problems caused by social disadvantages and provide adequate healthcare for everyone.

References

Berkman, L.F. & Kawachi, I. (2000). Social Epidemiology. Oxford University Press.

Honjo, K. (2004). Social epidemiology: Definition, history, and research examples. Environ Health Prev Med., 9(5), pp. 193–199.

Fisher, C., Ph.D. (2010). Is Healthy Behavior Contagious? The Impact Of Social Norms On Physical Activity And Healthy Eating. BMed Report. Retrieved from http://www.bmedreport.com/archives/20575

Krieger, N. (2001). Theories for social epidemiology in the 21st century: an ecosocial perspective. International Journal of Epidemiology, 30(4), pp. 668-677.

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